Liga MX Power Rankings: Cruz Azul take top berth, but beware of Tigres
MEXICO CITY -- The somewhat anticlimactic final weekend of the Liga MX regular season ended with Sunday's games nothing more than a mere formality. Only Pumas vs. Santos offered the chance to decide which of the two teams would finish above each other in the league table. Even Toluca's unexpected loss to Lobos BUAP proved a non-starter as their place in the playoff seeding had been decided.
Despite this past slate of games offering little to no drama, there is almost a guarantee of it as soon as we start the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
The Mexican playoffs are dramatic, unexpected and at times, downright kooky, making regular season positioning, at times, superfluous. With that said, here are the Power Rankings for the eight teams who have qualified to the playoffs:
1. UANL TIGRES (finished sixth)
Ricardo Ferretti's team is the epitome of "been there, done that" in the postseason. Though they ultimately grabbed a lower seed than expected this time around, there's little doubt they'll be able to contend for the title.
On Sunday, when Pumas and Santos sorted their final position in the league table, it seemed at times that neither team wanted to finish third lest they have to face Tigres. Under Ferretti, Tigres has won the Liga MX title on four occasions. They boast arguably the most complete roster from top to bottom, and despite owning the sixth seed, look to be the favorite against Pumas in the quarterfinals. When UANL gears up in playoff mode, it is nearly impossible to stop them.
2. CRUZ AZUL (finished first)
We've seen this before. Cruz Azul has a wonderful regular season, making doubters into those true of faith as the playoffs commence. Most of the time, their hopes fade away gently, but other times, they lose in ways so soul crushing, often in the final stage, it seems unfathomable to understand why.
Are things different this time around? The team's ownership paired a winning coach (Pedro Caixinha) with a winning executive (Ricardo Pelaez) resulting in one of the strongest regular-season campaigns they've had in the last two decades. If ever there was an opportunity to break with two decades of futility, it's this season. Though not an easy matchup, they are heavily favored against Queretaro in the quarterfinals.
3. CLUB AMERICA (finished second)
On the surface, there's a very strong case for this team picking up a record thirteenth league title in a few weeks. A strong team of players coached by a guy who has been there before. Furthermore, the team has a likely comfortable road to the final, avoiding either of the top two teams on this list until then.
On the flip side, Miguel Herrera's team has feasted on inferior opposition this season, but has struggled to beat any of the top-tier squads in Liga MX. Teams that rely on such a fine margin of error usually struggle in the playoffs, where one goal can change things greatly. It remains to be seen whether America can kick it up when needed, and their quarterfinal matchup against Toluca will be no picnic.
4. SANTOS LAGUNA (finished fourth)
The defending champions revel on being underestimated. No one expected them to roll into the final last season, much less win it. Nevertheless, they did, and despite roster turnover and turmoil behind the scenes this time around, they're back in the playoffs with a chance to go back-to-back.
Once more, they appear to be at a position of disadvantage, but events in their recent past makes it supremely unwise to write them off in any capacity. They perhaps have the most evenly matched quarterfinal opponent in Monterrey, and their road to the final seems complicated. However, that murky scenario seems to be exactly the way Santos would script it.
5. MONTERREY (finished fifth)
This team has already lost a final this season, when they dropped the Copa MX decider to Cruz Azul earlier this fall. Their trend of dropping championship games in their stadium is well-documented, though this tournament offers a new opportunity to grab the elusive title.
Unluckily for Monterrey, the road to the final is equally as difficult as Santos Laguna's coming out of their quarterfinal slot. Though the team boasts one of the most balanced attack and defense combos in the league, there is hardly a difference maker on this squad that can put the entire team on his back should the circumstances require it.
6. TOLUCA (finished seventh)
Last season's finalists limped into the playoffs with one win in the last five matches of the season, and two in their last seven. Much like Monterrey, Toluca relies on balance between both phases of the ball, though their offense seems to lack punch at times. Their main goal scorer, 21-year-old Alexis Vega, only tallied five scores in the Apertura 2017.
7. PUMAS UNAM (finished third)
This team might just be the unluckiest side in all of Liga MX. Not only did they underwhelm at times this season, but despite a strong finish to the Apertura, they managed to finish third and draw...Tigres in their quarterfinal tilt. This is arguably the worst possible pairing they could get, and despite closing out the series at home, the David Patino-led team will go into the playoffs an underdog against a team that has been dominant throughout the entire decade.
8. QUERETARO (finished eighth)
Rafa Puente got an instant shot at redemption when he took Queretaro over prior to the Apertura 2017, just months after Lobos BUAP axed him. The result was a spot in the playoffs, albeit one that looks to be brief, as eighth-seeded Queretaro will face off against Cruz Azul, who steamrolled through the league this season.
Silver lining? After 21 years of no title, Cruz Azul will face heavy pressure from the outset. Also, Queretaro beat them in their regular season match earlier this season when they met up in October.