Toluca, Pachuca over Club America, Monterrey

The semi-finals of the Apertura 2022 season are now officially over, leaving only two teams competing for the Liga MX title. Following the latest play-offs, here are a few talking points and some thoughts ahead of this week’s two-legged final.

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Club America title choice ousted by Toluca

The No. 1 seed was 6 Toluca was already being written off before he even stepped on the field last week. Against the No. 1 seed 1 Club America in the semifinals, Toluca was widely seen as a minor roadblock for the Liga MX giants who had previously dismantled Puebla 11-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.

Then came the mistakes that seemed to be twice as big as the supposed harmless sidekick. A strange evening full of errors for Club America, Toluca managed some ill-timed passes and moments of tremors that led to an impressive 2-1 victory in the first leg of the semi-final series last Wednesday.

“It’s soccer, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the loss, dismissing the result as strange. “Today they happened to us.”

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At home during the second game on Saturday in the historic Estadio Azteca, things were not better Las Aguilas. Toluca remained strong defensively, led by excellent performances from defenders Haret Ortega, Valber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Tiago Volpi had an impact with a handful of saves that would see Club America hold to one goal over the weekend. With a goal of their own from left back Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca went into the end with a 3-2 aggregate result.

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Despite Club America almost turning the series in their favor with a dramatic injury time goal from Henry Martin that was ruled out — which would have sent them to the final via a higher seeded bracket — Las Aguilas they have no excuses for their semi-final appearance.

Usually able to rely on many high-performing options in midfield and attack, Club America seemed lost when starters such as Diego Valdes and Richard Sanchez were sent off due to Toluca’s aggressive play. Game Los Diablos Rojos the Mexico City squad was forced to make mistakes, and in response, Ortiz made questionable substitutions in the second phase that did little to spark new ideas in the final third.

“I am the one responsible for this failure of the sport,” Ortiz said after his achievement, later adding “of course I want to continue [as manager].”

For Toluca, the weak and defenseless group of players has gained momentum at the perfect moment. After claiming six victories from July to September, Game Los Diablos Rojos and manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz sprinting into the final with five wins in October alone.

Ambriz was hired last December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign but only finished 15th in the table. In this Apertura season, he has put together a side that has thrived with a more resilient defense and created behind game-changers such as Volpi, Jean Meneses, and Leonardo Fernandez.

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“Eight months ago we were a disaster,” said Ambriz defeating Club America. “Now it’s changing.”

Against the No. 1 seed 4 Pachuca in this week’s two-legged championship series, Ambriz and his group of players will be looking to challenge the odds again.

Pachuca finally back upset after Monterrey

Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to pull off an upset in the semifinals. Pachuca was determined in the previous round against the No. 1 seed. 2 Monterrey, and eventually beat the favorites 6-2 on aggregate.

Thursday’s first leg at home set the tone for Pachuca. Undaunted by their attack-minded approach, Los Tuzos traded jabs with a great start to the series that got Pachuca narrowly up 3-2 by the 47th minute. In the beginning of an even battle between the two, Monterrey shot themselves in the leg through a straight red in the 64th minute for Erick Aguirre, allowing Pachuca to score twice more and win the first leg with a score of 5-2.

Able to absorb pressure and play defensively if necessary, manager Guillermo Almada used a closer version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation during Sunday’s second leg, which ‘left a frustrated Monterrey forward who could not find the goal of the game. net in a 1-0 loss. With superstar goalkeeper Oscar Ustari racking up 11 saves — and defenders like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez racking up even more clearances and tackles — Los Tuzos survived a Monterrey attack that quickly ran out of solutions for problems in the second half.

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With the entire series almost over, a penalty goal in the 95th minute for Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey in 2021 after a lack of minutes, was a great irony on the cake for Almada and his squad.

Coming into December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign, the 56-year-old Uruguayan coach has taken his club to back-to-back championships. After pushing Santos Laguna to the 2021 Clausura final, could this finally be Almada not only winning his first Liga MX title, but also helping Pachuca claim their second Liga MX championship since 2016?

“I hope,” said Almada after the victory. “We are going to give our all to reach the goal, [but] Toluca will think the same as us, so maybe the best one will win.”

Pachuca should not overlook a Toluca side whose regular season standings could be deceiving. In a short tournament format like Liga MX, it often takes a manager more than one season to get his roster to click. At their best, Los Tuzos They are a much more organized and balanced team that can easily switch from an aggressive attacking style to dropping deep and defending if needed.

With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca could be the ones to finally stop the underdogs of Toluca.

Liga MX final schedule

Pachuca vs Toluca
First leg: Thursday, October 27 (time TBD)
Second leg: Sunday, October 30 (time TBD)


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