Liga MX Power Rankings: Cruz Azul rises to the top; Leon slides after winning streak is snapped
Only two playoff spots remain up for grabs with one match to go. Club America, in seventh with 26 points, and Tijuana, eighth with 25 points, can still see their postseason hopes dashed if they fail to come up with the goods in Week 17.
While Las Aguilas have an easy assignment at last-place Veracruz, a good amount of eyes will be fixated on the winner-take-all match on Saturday night between Tijuana and Puebla, who are ninth with 24 points. If there's a draw at the Estadio Caliente, even Toluca, 10th with 22 points, can still qualify -- if they beat Lobos BUAP. That being said, what's been the secret to each team's success or failure this season? This week, we'll focus on one thing you might not know or may have overlooked from each team's campaign.
One big thing: The ascendance of Milton Caraglio. The 30-year-old striker has cemented his best season in Liga MX since arriving in 2016, with 10 goals to lead Cruz Azul. In the 4-1 win over Lobos BUAP last weekend that officially qualified Los Cementeros for the playoffs, he scored again -- his ninth strike in the last eight matches. In that stretch, Cruz Azul has not lost once.
One big thing: The return of coach Chelis. The bald, brash Jose Luis Juan Sanchez Sola returned midseason to a team that was not expected to contend for the playoffs after an underwhelming start. Under his stewardship, however, Puebla is just a win away from grabbing a playoff spot for the first time since the Apertura 2016.
One big thing: The return of Gustavo Bou. The Argentine striker was off on loan and expected to be sold, but a serious lack of offensive firepower prompted his return to Mexico. Since then, he's scored seven goals to lead Xolos, four of which have come in the last three games, including two in Tijuana's 4-1 win over Morelia last weekend. Tijuana has won every match in which Bou has scored this season.
One big thing: The offseason dismantling. By way of their shocking 2-1 win over Leon, Chivas shoots up in this week's Power Rankings, a pyrrhic victory considering how bad their season has been. Most of the pieces that made up Chivas' last championship squad are now gone, and there appears to be no discernible plan to make it back to the top. This summer, the hiring of a new coach and major signings will be critical to Guadalajara's potential success.
One big thing: Injuries galore. The only reason why Club America is still clinging to a postseason spot at this point is the size and depth of its roster. Key players like Nico Castillo and Oribe Peralta have been injured for most of the season, and Nicolas Benedetti, who was just beginning to hit his stride, is lost for the rest of the campaign. Though they won't likely repeat as league champions, the remaining players were still good enough to conquer the Copa MX a few weeks ago.
One big thing: Brian Fernandez. The Argentine goalscorer is probably the Liga MX MVP this season, almost single-handedly putting Los Rayos back in the playoffs after a lengthy absence. His 12 goals are good for second in the Golden Boot race, and though he ended last weekend on a sour note, making headlines for confronting a fan in Monterrey, he's the main reason why Necaxa has been significantly better in the Clausura 2019.
One big thing: Their unlimited spending. Like Club America, Tigres have suffered through their share of significant injuries. Why are they in the CONCACAF Champions League final and sitting second in the league on 34 points then? The next man up for whoever goes down is likely just as good as the guy he's replacing. Tigres' roster is ridiculous, and it's the reason why Ricardo Ferretti was confident enough to send a strong side out against Puebla last weekend even after contesting the CCL final first leg just days prior.
One big thing: Rogelio Funes Mori. The Liga MX season has been a roller coaster for Los Rayados, but, like Tigres, they're still in contention to win both of the trophies still up for grabs. An obvious reason for that is Funes Mori, who has clipped in 11 goals this season and makes Diego Alonso's defensive stratagems that much harder to beat by way of his scoring.
One big thing: The hiring of Ricardo La Volpe. Adrift under Hernan Cristante, Toluca pulled the plug earlier this season to bring in La Volpe, the man who famously "coached Toluca to a title over the phone" in 2002, weeks after taking the Mexico national team job. La Volpe's attractive offensive style has yielded immediate results. Though last weekend's 2-2 draw against Pumas likely killed their playoff hopes, they'll be fun to watch next season.
One big thing: Failure to invest... again. Pumas' long-standing tradition of replenishing departures with solid, young players has grinded to a halt of late. The talent drought has likely never been this obvious, and management has failed to cough up the money to fill in the gaps. The Clausura 2019 season is another lost semester for a team that is increasingly comfortable with mediocrity.
One big thing: Angel Mena, Jose Juan Macias and Ignacio Ambriz. Manager Nacho Ambriz travelled to Europe to study up on popular and successful strategies following unsuccessful stints at home. The result? A wide open attacking style that has rejuvenated his career, and made stars out of strikers Mena and Macias. Though their 12-game winning streak ended on Saturday against Chivas, they're still favorites to contend for the league title.
One big thing: Home sweet home. Pachuca has won every single game at the Estadio Hidalgo this season, good for 24 of their 28 points. As dreadful as they've been on the road, something about their home ground has made them unbeatable there, as shown by their latest conquest, a 1-0 win over Atlas.
One big thing: Offseason departures. As has been stated several times this season, it's fairly unbelievable to think this team made the playoffs just six months ago. They did, and instead of building on that modest success, management sold off important pieces to the puzzle. From the get go, this was not the same team and a disastrous first half to the Clausura 2019 buried them.
One big thing: Away woes. The Estadio Corona is one of the toughest places for opponents to win. This season has been no different, with Santos taking points from six of their seven games there. Away from Torreon, however, Los Guerreros have lost six of nine, with a horrendous -11 goal difference. At the Estadio Azteca on Saturday, they were again unable to win, losing 1-0 to Club America.
One big thing: Defending, or a lack thereof. Morelia has given up 30 goals this season, good for second-worst in the league. On Friday, Tijuana teed off on them for four, pushing them down into 16th place with just 12 points on the semester.
One big thing: Escaping the drop. The only thing on this team's mind all season was avoiding a second-straight relegation. They did so, albeit aided by a dreadful Veracruz team. Though their faint playoff hopes were dashed last weekend with a rout to Cruz Azul, there are props to be given out for their solid play in the Clausura.
One big thing: A lack of an identity. Team president Rafa Marquez intends his squad to emulate the style of Barcelona, the team that has most molded and influenced the former defender. Easier said than done. At no point did Atlas even attempt to replicate the concepts and styles that make the Blaugrana a model institution. Back to the drawing board.
One big thing: The worst owner in Mexican sports. Veracruz had no shot from the outset, and the main culprit is Fidel Kuri. The team was poorly constructed, scandals dominated the headlines all year long, and the clown show continues with sanctions coming down from FIFA. They'll likely end the season as the first-ever Liga MX team with zero points.