Liguilla preview? Aguilas-Guerreros and Tigres-Gallos

The Tigres visit Querétaro with a high playoff seeding at stake. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The Tigres visit Querétaro with a high playoff seeding at stake. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Saturday’s Liga MX schedule offers a doozy of a double-header as four of the top five teams in the table square off in back-to-back matches.

Matchday 17 offers the chance to see four teams jockey for playoff seeding directly against a team they might see in the Liguilla. Those four teams – Santos, the Aguilas of América, Querétaro and the Tigres – are each virtually assured of playoff spots, so their focus is on claiming a high seed.

In the evening matinee, the defending champion Tigres travel to Querétaro to tangle with the Gallos Blancos, and immediately following that the América-Santos game will kick off in Estadio Azteca.

A chess match in the Corregidora

Ricardo Ferretti’s Tigres are in fifth place while Víctor Manuel Vucetich has his Gallos in fourth place. Both have 27 points and the home team is ahead on total goals scored (26 to 24). The teams are 1 and 2 in scoring defense; the Tigres have only allowed 13 goals in 15 games, while Querétaro has let in 15 in the same number of games.

Aguilas-Santos, Tigres-Gallos
Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti (right) and Querétaro manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich will match wits at the Estadio Corregidora on Saturday. (Photo by Ivan Villa/LatinContent via Getty Images) /

The winner of this match should be in prime position to claim a top seed for the Liguilla, especially if the América-Santos match ends in a tie. A draw at the Estadio Corregidora should not damage either the Tigres’ or the Gallos Blancos’ playoff chances. It just might require a more difficult road to the Finals as a lower seed.

Querétaro has not defeated the Tigres at home in 10 years and Ferretti has a slight edge over Vucetich in head-to-head results (Tuca is 16-11-14 against “King Midas”).

Aguilas get chance at the top seed

Miguel Herrera will be back on the sideline for América after serving his all-to-brief suspension. The Aguilas will be hoping to come away from the weekend on top of the table for the first time this season. To do so, third-place América must defeat league-leading Santos and hope that second-place Necaxa does not win against Pachuca later Saturday night. Such a combination of results would give the Aguilas 31 points, Santos would stick at 30 and Necaxa would have either 29 or 28. However, América would have trouble staying on top since they will serve their bye on the final weekend of the season.

Aguilas-Santos, Tigres-Gallos
América will have its last best chance to claim a top playoff seed when they face visiting Santos on Saturday. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The visiting Guerreros arrive as the Liga MX’s best offense (33 goals in 15 games), but they have not had much luck against the Aguilas at Estadio Azteca recently, going 0-1-6 in their past seven meetings at the Coloso de Santa Ursula. América has been one of the league’s best home teams this season, posting a 5-3-0 record at the Azteca.

Both of these games should be very entertaining. The first will be a defensive struggle with two masterful tacticians at work. I see a draw as the most likely outcome. The second game should be a fast-paced game with lots of attacking flair and physical defending. Goalies Jonathan Orozco (Santos) and Guillermo Ochoa (América) – teammates on El Tri’s Gold Cup-winning squad this past summer – will be tested early and often.

One key to the second game will be the performance of ref César Ramos. If América is allowed to be physical in midfield, they will have a significant advantage. If Ramos makes it clear from the outset that the rough stuff will be penalized, the game will be more free-flowing, allowing Santos wingers Brian Lozano and Erick Castillo and their América counterparts – Renato Ibarra and Andrés Ibarquen – to attack with abandon.

Elswhere around the Liga MX …

In other Matchday 17 games with playoff implications, Pachuca visits second-place Necaxa and León hosts Morelia.

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The Tuzos are in desperate need of a win as they have fallen off a cliff at the wrong time. Martín Palermo’s boys are on a three-game losing streak, sinking into 13 th place, 5 points out of a playoff spot. With games against the Tigres and the Pumas remaining, this is a must-win for the Tuzos. Necaxa, on the other hand, will want to continue its 5-game unbeaten run and build momentum for its unforeseen playoff run. The Rayos close out the regular season with two eminently winnable games (at San Luis and at Puebla), so a win over Pachuca could serve as a real confidence booster.

Morelia has been one of the best Liga MX team since changing coaches after Matchday 5. The Monarcas have gone 6-2-2 under Pablo Guede with a 22-12 goal differential. Their 3-2 win at Cruz Azul on Matchday 14 set them up to be a real spoiler in the Liguilla. With 23 points, the Monarcas have a 2-point lead over their closest pursuers for eighth place. But their closing schedule is not easy. After León, they should get an easy win vs Puebla but finish the season at Querétaro.

As for León, their 1-0 loss to Cruz Azul take the wind out of their sails and makes a top playoff seed appear out of reach. The Esmeraldas are in sixth place (26 points) and if they continue to stumble, they could be playing for a playoff berth on the last weekend at Tijuana.