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Liga MX W2W4: Battle of playoff hopefuls, Golden Boot race heats up

USMNT's Gregg Berhalter praises the Mexican federation for its success in CONCACAF and says the organization has set the benchmark for MLS and U.S. Soccer.

MEXICO CITY -- It's almost time for Week 15 of the 2019 Clausura! Before Liga MX returns with its latest set of highly anticipated games, here are three things to watch out for.

Three-way Golden Boot race at the top continues

Leon's Angel Mena leads all Liga MX scorers at the moment with 12 scores, while Monterrey's Rogelio Funes Mori and Necaxa's Brian Fernandez follow with 11.

The tight scenario and consistent prowess of all three forwards means we'll have an exciting finish as the season continues to wind down. Mena will face Atlas this weekend, a team that has given up 22 goals on the season and is not particularly known for their lockdown defenders.

Though Pachuca, Fernandez's next opponent, have also given up 22 goals on the season, his matchup looks to be a bit more difficult considering the playoff implications at stake for their game. Finally, Funes Mori will be up against the worst defensive unit in the league in Veracruz, who have allowed 29 scores in their historically awful season, though Los Tiburones will hopefully display some fighting spirit after a nine-goal rout from Pachuca last weekend. If bets were to be made as to who pulls ahead after Week 15, Funes Mori and Mena have the edge, with Fernandez the dark horse to jump in front of the other two with less than a handful of games remaining.

Ecuador's Mena would be the first player from his country to win the Golden Boot in Liga MX since Enner Valencia did it back in the Apertura 2014. The then-Pachuca striker racked up 12 goals during that semester. Funes Mori and Fernandez both hail from Argentina, and would replace Mauro Boselli as the most recent top goal scorer from the nation -- the former Leon striker scored 11 to share the crown with Colombia's Aviles Hurtado back in the Apertura 2017. When's the last Mexican-born striker to win the award, you ask? Angel Reyna, who scored 13 for Club America... after the Clausura 2011.

Rogelio Funes Mori (11) is one goal behind Angel Mena and tied with Brian Fernandez in the three-way race for Liga MX's Golden Boot.

Two big games with playoff implications

In Aguascalientes, Necaxa will take on Pachuca in a battle of Liguilla hopefuls, as the fourth and fifth-placed teams square off at the Estadio Victoria. With the aforementioned Fernandez leading the attack, it will be interesting to see if the home team can focus on getting the job done against a talented but inconsistent team in Los Tuzos.

Both squads sport identical records of seven wins, three draws and four losses. A single goal in favor of Necaxa currently separates them in the standings, and Saturday's game can go a long way in deciding what if any playoff aspirations either of these teams harbor. There's only a four-point gap between both clubs and Puebla, presently ninth and tasked with a somewhat accessible game against Chivas.

Cruz Azul and Tijuana, two of the clubs sandwiched between them and Puebla, are also faced with home games they're expected to win. On Sunday, another key clash will feature Club America, who will visit a Toluca team with fading (but not extinguished) hopes of making the postseason. The Aguilas need a win to keep the pressure on and potentially get a favorable first-round matchup, but Toluca is notoriously tough on them in their home stadium. With Nico Castillo still ruled out due to injury, Miguel Herrera's club will have to once again rely on supporting players on offense to generate scoring.

Cruz Azul and Pumas face off in watered down Mexico City derby

The Estadio Azteca will see Cruz Azul attempt to continue an incredible second-half comeback against a Pumas team that will likely look to play spoiler the rest of the way.

Though Pumas are still technically not eliminated, they'd need to grab all nine points available to them and hope teams above them falter just enough to sneak in. Crazier things have happened in Mexico's first division, but this still seems like quite a stretch. They'll have to face off against their local rivals without manager Bruno Marioni, sent off last weekend after bumping Xolos player Omar Mendoza in an eventual win.

This is the second time their boss has been embroiled in controversies regarding misbehavior -- just two weeks ago, he clashed with a fan in Juarez after his team dropped a Copa MX semifinal. Now, he'll miss arguably his team's last chance at postseason glory. Led by Milton Caraglio on offense, Cruz Azul has been increasingly effective despite a laundry list of injuries.

Their defense, however, has been the real star. Only Leon (nine) and Tigres (11) have allowed less goals than La Maquina this season, and Pedro Caixinha's team has gone seven straight in the league without losing.

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