By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Nov 27, 2019) US Soccer Players - With the Liga MX regular season sprint complete, eight teams will play for the Apertura 2019 championship. Club America is the headliner, taking their spot in the limelight as always. America is trying to add to its already crowded mantle with yet another piece of hardware. Mexico's other big clubs didn't bother to make an appearance. UNAM Pumas, Cruz Azul, and Chivas de Guadalajara all had poor showings this season. Their focus shifts to the Clausura 2020 campaign.
America then trudges on as the standard-bearer but in its path is the most appropriate quarterfinal rival. America will play Tigres UANL for a spot in the semifinals. Tigres is a respected club, one of the top clubs in Mexico over the last several years, but is an outlier in the "big club" category.
Long ago, the hierarchy that is America, Chivas, Pumas, and Cruz Azul became clear. That thinking must change. Any list of Liga MX's big clubs must include Tigres. The team does not play in Mexico's biggest city like America, Cruz Azul, and Pumas, who all call Mexico City home. Nor does it play in Guadalajara, the country's second-largest city. Tigres plays much further north than most teams in Liga MX, but the club is massively popular and is as successful as most any team in Mexico.
America vs Tigres highlights the quarterfinal round along with Monterrey vs Santos Laguna, Morelia vs Leon, and Necaxa vs Queretaro. In America vs Tigres, the league has a matchup worthy of a final. In fact, these teams have met in the final twice since the Apertura 2014 season. Tigres is the defending champions, while America won the title the season prior.
No matter what happens in this series, Tigres is already the team of the decade. Tigres has won five championships in the 2010s and has another two finals appearances. America and Santos have each won three titles this decade while Leon, with two wins, is the only team with more than one championship this decade.
Recent success should carry much more weight than titles from the olden days. Cruz Azul and Chivas each did well to establish themselves in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s. Chivas has 12 league titles, the second-most behind America, but has just four since 1970. Cruz Azul has eight all-time championships, but only one came after 1980. Tigres meanwhile had two championships by 1982. They went 29 years and a trip to the second division between championships. Their five this decade puts them in a tie for fifth all-time in Mexico.
Tigres should be able to get past America in the quarterfinals. Tigres lost just twice during the regular season, the fewest losses of any team this season. They haven't lost since September, carrying an eight-game unbeaten streak into the postseason. The first leg in Estadio Azteca on Thursday could be tricky, but Tigres has Andre-Pierre Gignac on its side. Gignac has seven goals and three assists against America all-time.
America will try and counter with its own bit of momentum. Giovani Dos Santos is back after missing time due to a gruesome leg injury suffered against rivals Chivas on September 28. Dos Santos played in the last two league matches and figures to be ready to go against Tigres. Dos Santos is still trying to recapture his previous form. He scored just once this season and has been unable to make a splash in Mexico. He still needs to re-establish his reputation after his stint in MLS.
Monterrey will try to make sure they're still in the conversation with their city rivals. Doung that means knocking out Santos Laguna in round one. Monterrey barely reached the postseason, beating Atlas on the season's last day to get to 27 points, two better than Pachuca and Chivas. Santos meanwhile was the class of the regular season, with the most wins (11) and most goals scored (40) while boasting an impeccable home record of 8-0-1. Santos has scoring duo Brian Lozano and Julio Furch. Both hit the back of the net nine times this season.
Morelia and Leon meanwhile will face off in an enticing regional rivalry. Just a two-hour drive separates Morelia and Leon in southwestern Mexico. Morelia surprised this season after a pair of seasons missing the postseason. Not coincidentally, Morelia failed to reach the postseason for two consecutive seasons after sending scoring star Raul Ruidíaz to Seattle following the Clausura 2018.
The sleeper of the postseason figures to come from the Necaxa vs Queretaro series. Necaxa has won three championships. All came in the mid-1990s when the club featured Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Luis Hernandez. Necaxa relocated from Mexico City to Aguascalientes and spent several years in the second division before returning to the top flight. Queretaro meanwhile has just one finals loss to show for its entire existence. Necaxa boasts the league's co-leading scorer in Mauro Quiroga, finishing with 12 goals.
Regardless of how the other three series go, this postseason is Tigres's to win or lose. Tigres can cement its mark as the team of the decade with a run to the title. Six league titles this decade would double the closest competitor. It would signal a continuation to the dynasty the team is building up north. Tigres still would need five league titles to catch America for most all-time. Right now, it's not much of a stretch to see it doing just that. The team of the 2010s could end up being the team of the 2020s and the biggest Liga MX club of all.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Logo courtesy of Tigres