The first weekend of Liga MX playoffs is now in the books!
While the top four teams in the 2022 Apertura regular season were given byes until the quarterfinal stage, the remaining eight teams all recently battled it out in the play-in round. Here are four talking points from the first round of playoffs and some thoughts ahead of this week's quarterfinal matches.
Gignac takes spotlight in Tigres' win over Necaxa
Of the few constants in Liga MX, Andre-Pierre Gignac scoring momentous, game-changing goals for Tigres is easily one of them. During Saturday's match against a cautious No. 12 Necaxa, the French striker stood tall with a brace that lifted No. 5 Tigres to a 2-0 win at home and a spot in the quarterfinal stage of the playoffs.
Initially down to 10 players after a reckless challenge from Javier Aquino in the 20th minute, Tigres had an uphill battle before Necaxa's Facundo Batista earned a red of his own shortly after the halftime whistle. Tigres carried most of the momentum despite the early red, and by the 60th minute, Gignac opened up the scoresheet with one of the best goals you'll see this Liga MX season.
¡Golazo, golazo, golaaaaazo! ✨⚽️— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) October 9, 2022
¡Gignac la manda al ángulo imposible para el arquero y el Volcán explota! 🌋🌋
🐯@TigresOficial 1-0 @ClubNecaxa ⚡️
EN VIVO 🔴
¡Síguelo ahora por VIX+! ✨https://t.co/NmAVqjYDbE#TuApertura2022 #ContiGoNecaxa #EstoEsTigres 🐯 pic.twitter.com/pr3pX3z4ZP
Hungry for more, the 36-year-old superstar scored once again in the 73rd minute, solidifying the eventual 2-0 victory.
As indispensable as Gignac was and has been for quite some time, Tigres manager Miguel "Piojo" Herrera was quick to note that he wasn't the only one on the pitch making an impact: "We have very good players, not just Andre. Whoever faces us will always see us as a very difficult, solid, and very strong team."
Next up for Tigres: A quarterfinal match-up against No. 4 Pachuca. Los Tuzos won't sit back as much as Necaxa and will be a much sterner attacking test. With a focus on throwing numbers forward and overlapping runs, Pachuca manager Guillermo Almada will be sure to make things complicated for Tigres' backline.
Resolute Puebla knock out Chivas in penalties
Credit must be given to the resiliency of No. 8 Puebla. During the play-in game against No. 9 Chivas in which Puebla had a disallowed goal and a questionable non-penalty call in the first half, Los Camoteros continued to push forward and eventually secured the first goal of Sunday night in the 58th minute from Martin Barragan.
Puebla did well to aggressively defend their area of the pitch, and after Chivas found a way to finally equalize the match in the 96th minute, manager Nicolas Larcamon and his men kept their composure and focus in an ensuing penalty shootout.
Going five for five, including a Panenka from 22-year-old Israel Reyes, Puebla didn't miss a single attempt as they moved on past Chivas 5-4 on penalties.
#Penales ¡Gooooooool del Puebla! ¡El Puebla! ¡El Pueblota de la Franja se mete a Cuartos de Final! 🔥😎— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) October 9, 2022
🎽 5-4 🐐#TuApertura2022 | #LaFranjaNosUne | #EsPorChivas
🔴 EN VIVO
📲👉 https://t.co/1saL7jpcIw pic.twitter.com/6Z9Uc4pDvb
Although some Chivas fans will rightfully complain about lasers intervening during the shootout, Los Rojiblancos were far from impressive in regulation time and were lucky to have gone to penalties to begin with. Following two consecutive seasons without at least a semifinal appearance, head coach Ricardo Cadena might not stick around either after admitting that he didn't reach expectations.
"As coach, I accept that we failed in the search of, in the intent of the minimum that we planned at the beginning of the tournament, which was to qualify [for the quarterfinals]," Cadena said. "In that sense, we failed."
As for Puebla, whose roster has the lowest market value per Transfermarkt of the remaining playoff teams, the "Larcaboys" will aim to maintain their chemistry and never-say-die attitude that has made them greater than the sum of their parts. Whether that's greater than No. 1 Club America will be the big question this week in the quarterfinal round. The league-leaders will be the heavy favorites, especially after recently claiming a 2-1 away win over Puebla last month.
Toluca surpass FC Juarez in multi-goal result
Earlier on Sunday, No. 11 FC Juarez finished with more shots, possession and corners than No. 6 Toluca, but it was Los Diablos Rojos who took charge at home in their 3-0 play-in round victory. Led by a goal and assist from Carlos Gonzalez and five saves from goalkeeper Tiago Volpi, Toluca capitalized on their chances in the final third and shutdown a Juarez side who lost energy after a bright start to the game.
Toluca's confidence gradually rose in the match while Juarez struggled in the final third. With the clash all but wrapped up through a 2-0 lead by injury time, Los Diablos Rojos began to toy with the visitors, leading to a highlight-worthy backheel assist from Daniel Alvarez for Marcel Ruiz to make it 3-0 in the 92nd minute.
😮💨 ¡Ufff, lo que juega el Toluca, por favoooor! 🔥🔥🔥— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) October 9, 2022
👏🏻 El pase de taquito del Fideo es para verlo una y otra vez 🤩🤩🤩@TolucaFC 3-0 @fcjuarezoficial
EN VIVO 🔴 Sigue toda la liguilla por @VIX 👉 https://t.co/NmAVqkge3c#TuClausura2022 #ContigoMásBravos #ElRojoesTodo pic.twitter.com/7q1KIOQ9R0
Juarez manager Hernan Cristante, who previously coached and played for Toluca, sourly noted at the post-game press conference that it's tough to compete against a Toluca side that spent plenty on numerous transfers over the summer. Toluca manager Igancio Ambriz's response: "Investment doesn't play. You have to run, fight and manage the games."
In the quarterfinals, Toluca will now face No. 3 Santos Laguna, who are in a fantastic run of form with just one loss in their last 10 games. Los Guerreros utilize a very direct style of play and have a daunting tally of 38 goals to show for it from 17 regular season matches. If Toluca sneak through to the semis, they'll likely need Volpi, Gonzalez and at least a few others to shine this week.
Amid refereeing controversy, Cruz Azul narrowly leapfrog Leon
Leon goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota was looking like the Man of the Match for No. 10 Leon on Saturday night, that is, until a fumbled ball gifted No. 7 Cruz Azul the lone goal in a 1-0 victory. The Mexican international goalkeeper was a wall against Los Cementeros before letting a cross slip through his hands and land near Ignacio Rivero, who scored in the 72nd minute.
🔵⚽🔥 ¡Goool de @CruzAzul!— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) October 9, 2022
🔵⚽🔥 ¡Goool de @CruzAzul!
🔵⚽🔥 ¡Goool de @CruzAzul!
Antuna arma la jugada y Rivero la manda guardar 👏👏👏
🔴 ¡EN VIVO! https://t.co/kJ82eb2jDB
📲🔗 TUDN, https://t.co/T8lpgqtF3M y app #TuApertura2022 | #GanarOMorir pic.twitter.com/RkI5Yeqe6L
The goal was much-needed relief for a Cruz Azul squad that had two goals called offside earlier in the game, but the true controversy with officiating would arrive later in the play-in match.
Following a decision from referee Fernando Guerrero to not give Cruz Azul a penalty or check VAR for what looked to be a foul in their favor during the 91st minute, Leon were then controversially denied a penalty of their own in the 95th minute after Guerrero reviewed VAR for a possible handball on Rodrigo Huescas.
Even after Leon were denied a penalty and fell to Cruz Azul, manager Renato Paiva raised some eyebrows after the defeat and insinuated that Leon shouldn't have even been there to begin with. "In my opinion, it's unnecessary," said Paiva about the repechaje format adopted in 2020 that expanded playoff spots from the top eight to the top 12. "The top eight directly to the playoffs, and that's that."
Looking at Cruz Azul interim manager Raul "Potro" Gutierrez and his squad, they're now set to face No. 2 Monterrey in the quarterfinals. Along with Club America, Los Rayados are title-favorites that are talent-heavy and robust in nearly every position within their XI. Many won't give Cruz Azul the advantage here, but the same could be said about their title run in 2021...
Liga MX quarterfinal schedule
Club America vs. Puebla
First leg: Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. ET
Second leg: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 9 p.m. ET
Monterrey vs. Cruz Azul
First leg: Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. ET
Second leg: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Toluca
First leg: Thursday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. ET
Second leg: Sunday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. ET
Pachuca vs. Tigres
First leg: Thursday, Oct. 13 at 10 p.m. ET
Second leg: Sunday, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. ET