The Rayos of Necaxa host the Querétaro Gallos Blancos in the first leg of the No. 4 vs No. 5 match-up.
Necaxa coach Memo Vázquez has the Rayos in the playoffs for the second straight season, but his counterpart, Víctor Manuel Vucetich, is the one known as “King Midas.”
The tactical battle – especially in-game adjustments – will be key in this quarterfinal match-up as these teams have contrasting styles. Necaxa is a patient, physical counter-attacking team, while Querétaro is a balanced attacking squad that crated more scoring chances than any other Liga MX team.
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Necaxa stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their final three games to fall from a No. 2 seed down to No. 5, losing the chance of hosting the second-leg. The Gallos Blancos fizzled during the final month of the season, too, finishing the season 1-1-2. Both teams garnered 31 points, with identical 9-4-5 records, but Quéretaro earned a higher seed thanks to a better goal differential.
The Rayos have not been terribly impressive at home (Necaxa posted a middling 3-4-2 record at Estadio Victoria), but they know they can defeat the Gallos Blancos after beating them 2-1 in Querétaro on Sept. 24. Still, coach Vázquez would prefer returning to Estadio Corregidora with a lead to protect rather than needing a road win to advance to the semifinals.
Coach Vucetich has five Liga MX titles on his résumé, but Querétaro is the only franchise in the playoffs this season that has never won a league championship. Vucetich did lead the Gallos Blancos to the Clausura 2015 Finals only to lose to Santos Laguna. “King Midas” is no stranger to playoff soccer, but the Gallos Blancos have only made the Liguilla once since that magical run to the Finals in May 2015.
Vázquez also has hoisted a trophy as a manager, leading the Pumas to the Clausura 2011 title, but he famously botched a title for Cruz Azul in the Clausura 2013 Final by switching to defensive tactics despite having a man advantage. The tactical error allowed América to stay alive and find a late equalizer before winning the title in a penalty kick shoot-out.
Striker Mauro Quiroga led the league in points (12 goals, 5 assists) and he is the linchpin of the Rayos offense. The big Argentine is capable of playing with his back to goal and participating in the build-up, but he is most dangerous in the box awaiting crosses. Jair Pereira and Luis Romo will have to keep tabs on him in the middle of the Querétaro defense.
Midfielders Clifford Aboagye and Marcel Ruiz will be called upon to find space between Necaxa’s lines and generate scoring chances. Forwards Ake Loba and Jeison Lucumi are quick and talented, and if the Gallos Blancos playmakers can filter passes into space, they can take advantage of the slower Necaxa defenders.
Odds and Ends
Necaxa and Querétaro are squaring off in the Liga MX playoffs for the first time ever, but the fact that either team is in the Liguilla is the real news. Before the season, one publication gave neither team much chance of success, placing Necaxa 13th with 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the title. Querétaro was next in line at 6,000-to-1 (the Tigres were first at 300-to-1).
These preseason projections no doubt relied upon the teams’ modest payrolls. Only three teams have a smaller payroll than the Rayos (Veracruz, Atlético San Luis and FC Juárez) while Querétaro’s wage burden is 12th in the Liga MX. Together, their combined payroll would still only be sixth-highest in the league (behind Monterrey, Tigres, América, Cruz Azul and Pachuca, the latter two of which did not make the playoffs).
The Rayos have won only two of their past 14 playoff games (2-5-7) and both victories came at Estadio Victoria. … The Gallos Blancos have never won a playoff game on the road, going 0-3-4 away from the Estadio Corregidora in previous Liguillas. … Necaxa holds a slight advantage all-time vs Querétaro. The Rayos are 10-6-7 and have won each of the past two meetings. … Necaxa has not been to a Final since the Verano 2002 season and their last title came in 1998.