The semifinals of the 2022 Apertura season are now officially over, with only two teams in the running for the Liga MX title. After the latest batch of playoff games, here are a couple of talking points and some thoughts ahead of this week’s two-legged finale.
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Club America were the title favorites, knocked out by Toluca
Before entering the field last week, no. 6 seed Toluca has already been written. In the semi-final round no. Against No. 1 ranked Club America, Toluca was widely seen as a minor roadblock for the Liga MX giants, who previously demolished Puebla 11-2 in the quarterfinals.
Then came the mistakes that doubled the size of their innocuous obstacle. In an unusually error-filled evening for Club America, Toluca bounced back from errant passes and shaky moments that led to a shock 2-1 win in the first leg of last Wednesday’s semifinal series.
“This is soccer, mistakes happen,” Club America manager Fernando Ortiz said after the defeat, dismissing the result as simply strange. “Today they happened to us.”
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At home in Saturday’s second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca, things didn’t get any better Los Aguilas. Toluca remained stout defensively, led by standout performances from defenders Harret Ortega, Walber Huerta and Andres Mosquera. In net, goalkeeper Tiago Volpi was impressive with a handful of saves that held Club America to just one goal on the weekend. With an own goal from left-back Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca finally sneaked in with a 3-2 aggregate result.
Although Club America swung the series in their favor with Henry Martin’s dramatic injury-time goal, it was ruled offside – sending them to the final via a higher-seeded tiebreaker — Los Aguilas There are no excuses for their semi-final exit.
Typically able to rely on a number of high-performing options in midfield and attack, Club America lost out when starters like Diego Valdes and Richard Sánchez fell out of Toluca’s attacking play. Los Diablos Rojos Mexico City forced the team to make mistakes, and in response, Ortiz made questionable substitutions in the second leg that did little to spark fresh ideas in the final third.
“I’m responsible for this sporting failure,” Ortiz said after the exit, then added, “Obviously I want to move on. [as manager].”
As for Toluca, a once defensively weak group of players has stepped up at the perfect moment. After securing just six victories from July to September, Los Diablos Rojos And manager Ignacio “Nacho” Umbriz is on a run to the finals with five wins in October.
Ambridge was appointed last December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign but finished just 15th in the table. This Apertura season, he has assembled a team that has flourished with a more resilient defense and built behind game-changers like Volpi, Jean Menezes and Leonardo Fernandez.
“Eight months ago we were a disaster,” Ambridge said of beating Club America. “Now that’s changing.”
In this week’s two-legged championship series against No. 4 Pachuca, Ambridge and his teammates will try to defy expectations once again.
Pachuca was the eventual upset after Monterrey
Toluca wasn’t the only Liga MX club to pull off an upset in the semifinals. Pachuca in the previous round ranked no. 2 was convincing against Monterrey, eventually beating the favorites by a score of 6-2.
Thursday’s first leg at home set the tone for Pachuca. Undaunted by their attack-minded approach, Los Tujos The Jabs traded a thrilling start to the series that found Pachuca down 3-2 in the 47th minute. An even battle between the two early on, Monterrey then shot Eric Aguirre in the foot with a straight red in the 64th minute, allowing Pachuca to score twice in extra time and win the first leg with a 5–2 scoreline.
Adept at absorbing pressure and playing defensively when necessary, manager Guillermo Almada deployed a more compact version of his usual 4-2-3-1 formation in Sunday’s second leg, leading to a frustrated Monterrey front line that couldn’t find the former. 1-0 net loss. With veteran goalkeeper Oscar Ustari collecting 11 saves — and defenders like Oscar Murillo, Gustavo Cabral and Kevin Alvarez racking up even more clearances and tackles — Los Tujos Surviving Monterrey’s offense, it quickly overcame problems in the second half.
After the streak ended, a 95th-minute penalty goal for Pachuca’s Aviles Hurtado, who left Monterrey in 2021 after running out of minutes, was the perfect icing on the cake for Almada and his team.
The 56-year-old Uruguayan coach, who arrived in December ahead of the 2022 Clausura campaign, has now taken his club to back-to-back championship runs. After pushing Santos Laguna to the finals in the 2021 Clausura, could this be the moment when Almada finally wins its first Liga MX title, while helping Pachuca secure their second Liga MX championship since 2016?
“Hopefully yes,” Almada said after the victory. “We are going to give our all to achieve the goal, [but] Toluca thinks like us, so the best can win.
Not to be overlooked is Pachuca Toluca, whose regular season standings can be deceiving. In a mini-tournament format like Liga MX, it can take more than just one game for a manager to get his roster to click. at best, Los Tujos A highly organized and balanced team that can switch seamlessly from an attacking style of attack to dropping deep and defending if needed.
With a good mix of promising academy talent and experienced foreign signings, Pachuca can finally stop undermining Toluca.
Liga MX final schedule
Pachuca vs. Toluca
First leg: Thursday, Oct. 27 (time TBD)
Second leg: Sunday, October 30 (time TBD)