By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Apr 18, 2014) US Soccer Players – With a 17-week season, Liga MX does not exactly allow for continuity and true team development, but the tradeoff is worth it.
Having such a short timeframe, there is little margin for error and desperation sets in sooner rather than later. Such is the case in Liga MX’s Torneo Clausura. With two matches left in the regular season, 11 teams are separated by just four points in the standings.
Nearly everything is still in play as the teams continue their sprint to the finish line. The top spot is still very much up for grabs, all but two teams have a shot of making the playoffs, and the battle for relegation has not quite been decided.
Cruz Azul and Toluca separated themselves from the pack and have emerged as the top two teams in the Liga MX table. Cruz Azul hold a slim two-point edge over los Diablos due in part to Cruz Azul’s 1-0 win over Toluca on March 1st.
Santos Laguna sit in third place but with seven points separating los Guerreros from second place, both Cruz Azul and Toluca have secured the top two spots. Cruz Azul could wrap up their top seed with a win over Morelia and a Toluca loss or draw against Atlas but either way the teams will each have home-field advantage in the playoffs until they meet one another.
Of course, that meeting would give off a familiar feeling. Cruz Azul and Toluca are in the midst of challenging for a title. The teams played the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final on Tuesday and settled for a scoreless draw. With the decisive leg slated for Wednesday at Toluca’s Estadio Nemesio Diez, the teams could potentially battle for two trophies in a month-long span.
How an external competition affects league play is not a struggle only Cruz Azul and Toluca face. Santos Laguna and Leon are in the midst of their own international challenge, one that could have a say in how their Liga MX campaigns fare.
Each side played the first leg of their Copa Libertadores Round of 16 series on Wednesday and each side came away with mixed results. Santos squandered a second-half lead and lost 1-0 away to Lanus of Argentina, who is managed by ex-Columbus Crew standout Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Leon overcame a deficit and tied Bolivar of Bolivia 2-2 at home.
Perhaps the tournament will be more damaging to Leon’s hopes. Already without Rafael Marquez due to yellow-card accumulation, Leon put themselves in a difficult situation, needing a win in South America to advance to the quarterfinals.
Santos meanwhile have the luxury of returning home for both their league clash against Chiapas and the return leg against Lanus.
Santos also sit in a better position in the table and can afford a slip in league without damaging their hopes. Leon have no such luck and need a victory against Tigres to avoid falling out of the race altogether.
SCRAMBLE TO THE END
Leon sit on 17 points, one of three teams who can make that claim. Another quartet sits on 18, Queretaro are alone on 20 and another trio has 21 points, making for an 11-team logjam in the middle of the Clausura table.
For those teams, virtually every match will be an elimination game. A loss and some teams will be out, while others will take one step closer to the edge of the cliff. Victory may not secure a spot quite yet but it will leave them closer to the final eight.
Cruz Azul and Toluca are safe, while Santos sit in a good position. America and Pumas – right above the 11-team mess – but anything short of two losses would still be good enough for the postseason.
What effect will this have on the table? There is not one meaningless match in the penultimate weekend of Liga MX play.
One of the teams in the throes of the table may secure enough points for a playoff spot but would not be allowed to participate. Atlante have 18 points and are just an earshot from the playoffs but have all but officially secured their spot in the second division.
Six points separate Atlante from Puebla in the relegation race, and barring a miraculous turnaround – Atlante need to make up more than 20 goals in goal differential – Atlante will not participate in Liga MX next season.
Still, there is a silver lining. The club is after all based in Cancun.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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