Liguilla 2013 quarterfinals: First leg preview

Brian Bahr

Monterrey can't be considered too big of underdogs in the Clasico Regio, while America have to be considered big favorites in their quarterfinal.

The Liguilla gets underway on Wednesday and we'll have previews of each game. For now, here's a quick look at the first leg of each tie.

Monterrey (9) vs. UANL Tigres (1)

Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET

Tigres were the best team in Mexico during the Clausura, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Superlider curse returns this season. Monterrey defeated Tigres at Estadio Universitario in the two clubs' meeting this season, and Tigres are without Hugo Ayala for the rest of the tournament. Monterrey dropped plenty of points while they were trying to juggle CONCACAF Champions League and Liga MX, but they've looked spectacular when at their best in both competitions.

Expect Tigres to have more of the possession, even at Estadio Technologico, and Monterrey will be just fine with that. The big matchup to watch will be between Monterrey's strikers and the Tigres center of defense. Jose Rivas has done well deputizing for Ayala, but Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo are the best strike pairing on the continent.

UNAM Pumas (7) vs. Club America (2)

Wednesday, 9 pm ET

America's attempt to create an advantage for themselves on the final day of the season by pricing Tigres fans out of the game at Estadio Azteca didn't work. That might actually be to their advantage, as Pumas are likely a less dangerous opponent than Monterrey. The two sides met back on April 20, with America defeating Pumas 1-0.

Pumas, who have spent a few seasons outside of Liguilla while trying to blend young and unproven talent into the squad, finally caved this season and brought in a few veterans to give the team a boost. They've made it back to the playoffs, placating their very annoyed fans temporarily, but progression to the semifinal would be fairly stunning. America have the much stronger squad and never looked like losing the game between the two.

Santos Laguna (6) vs. Club Atlas (3)

Thursday, 7 pm ET

Atlas's resurgence under Tomas Boy has arguably been the biggest story of the season in Liga MX. Rodrigo Millar was an excellent signing, while Atlas's other wide players have been pleasant surprises. 34-year-old Veterans Lucas Ayala and Leandro Cufre have enjoyed resurgent seasons under new management, while castoff strikers Matias Vuoso and Omar Bravo are back to the form they enjoyed back in their mid-20s.

Santos, however, are one of Mexico's strongest sides. Similar to Monterrey, their league position suffered as they attempted to juggle Liga MX and the CONCACAF Champions League. Atlas suffered a heartbreaking home defeat against Santos in the league, with Santos scoring in the 79th minute to equalize and in the 89th minute to win the match.

It's tough to bet against a team with the depth of attacking talent that Santos has -- one of Darwin Quintero or Herculez Gomez is likely to start on the bench, along with one of Edgar Lugo, Nestor Calderon or Mario Cardenas -- but Atlas didn't finish 3rd this season on accident.

Cruz Azul (5) vs. Monarcas Morelia (4)

Thursday, 9 pm (Estadio Azul)

Cruz Azul had an average start to the season and lost quite a few games in the middle of the year, but they're currently Mexico's hottest team, having won five straight entering Liguilla. They were particularly impressive in the final two weeks, beating Santos and Monterrey back-to-back, and they also own a 5-0 win over Tijuana. Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro might be on their last legs, but they're healthy and in great form at the moment. Pablo Barrera has also returned from injury recently and has been a big boost.

These two sides drew in a 3-3 thriller back in January, but that game probably doesn't mean much in the context of this playoff tie. Cruz Azul didn't have Teo Gutierrez or Mariano Pavone in their lineup, still had Javier Aquino and didn't have Barrera. Morelia have also improved nearly as much as Cruz Azul in recent weeks, winning their last four in a row. Both teams are red hot at the moment, and it wouldn't be shocking to see the winner of this tie pull off a couple more upsets in route to a final appearance, and possibly a title.

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