Matchday 15 opens with the top two teams in the league playing road games against potential playoff opponents.
The Liga MX has made the final turn and is pounding home down the stretch run with one team out of the race. League-leading Santos kicks off Matchday 15 with a visit to eighth-place Morelia, while No. 2 Necaxa is on the road at No. 7 Atlas.
If the season were over, these games would be two of the quarterfinals match-up,s so the results will have considerable impact on the standings. This is especially true for the Atlas-Necaxa loser because of those teams still have a bye on their schedule.
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The other Friday night game has winless Veracruz traveling to Tijuana to face the inconsistent Xolos who are in in 11th place but only 1 point behind Morelia.
In addition, the new anti-discrimination regulation takes effect beginning this weekend. The rule targets the homophobic cheer that has become popular at Mexican soccer matches. Clubs and fans can be sanctioned if the “Eeeeeeh puto!” chant is heard in the stands. Home teams can be slapped with a stadium ban if the objectionable shout is audible, but match officials are also authorized to take action during the game. Upon the third time the “cheer” is heard, the match referee can suspend the game. This could be a big test for the Liga MX and the Mexican Soccer Federation.
Santos at Morelia
The visiting Guerreros are back in their familiar place atop the standings, a spot they have been in fully more than half the season. They also reclaimed No. 1 in our Power Rankings. Last week’s methodical 4-1 rout of Tijuana allowed Santos to climb over Necaxa who settled for a 2-2 tie against América.
Santos leads the league in goals scored (30 in 13 games), but they are up against a disciplined, opportunistic team in Morelia, also the league’s No. 6 defense (17 goals allowed). Brian Lozano and Julio Furch each scored for Santos last week and the pair is the best offensive duo in Liga MX. Furch is tied for the league lead with 9 goals, Lozano is fourth with 7 goals. Diego Valdés got a rare start in midfield (Adrián Lozano was rested) and he was a sparkplug on offense, scoring a goal and assisting on Lozano’s opener.
The Monarcas bounced back from a home loss on Matchday 13 (coming off their bye) to upset Cruz Azul last week as Sebastian Ferreira recorded a hat trick. Coach Pablo Guede has Morelia playing solid, steady soccer from front to back and relies on what has been a rather lethal counter-attack to keep opponents off balance.
Morelia is only 3-0-3 at home this season and they can’t afford to drop any more points at Estadio Morelos if they hope to be a player in the postseason.
Necaxa at Atlas
The Rayos squandered a late lead against América at home last week and, as a result, they slipped out of the top spot in the table. Necaxa now trails Santos 26 points to 25, but the Rayos have yet to serve their bye.
Atlas had an unconvincing 1-0 win at Puebla last weekend which was enough to get them back into a playoff spot, climbing from 9th to 7th. Facundo Barceló was the goal-scorer and he now has 4 on the season to lead the Zorros. The hosts will need other to contribute on offense if they are to keep pace with the explosive Rayos.
Necaxa is a respectable 3-0-3 on the road and they boast the league’s No. 3 offense (28 goals) and they’ll face an Atlas defense that has steadily improved throughout the season. The Rayos will look to Mauro Quiroga (9 goals) to ignite the offense and coach Memo Vázquez will hope his error-prone defense avoids key mistakes.
Veracruz at Tijuana
The Tiburones take to the road after last weekend’s in-game protest at home wherein Veracruz players refused to take part in the first three minutes of the game against the Tigres.
The players were protesting the owner’s failure to pay their wages as some had not been paid since May. Although a verbal agreement was negotiated, there has been no official word from the Tiburones that they will not stage another protest at Estadio Caliente.
Tijuana can’t worry about their opponent’s situation as they desperately need points. Although the Xolos are only 1 point out of a playoff spot, their -5 goal differential puts them at a real disadvantage in a tiebreaker. Playing against the league’s worst team could be just what the veterinarian ordered.