Atlas returns to the Liguilla for consecutive years but will have the toughest possible rival in Rayados de Monterrey. Monterrey is the heavy favorite, as not only did they finish first place but they are also qualified to the Copa MX final.
Atlas only managed to get to the Liguilla after almost throwing away their Liguilla ticket. Morelia, the other team owned by TV company TV Azteca, had to rescue their little brother when they shocked Necaxa with a 2-1 away win. That loss gave Atlas the Liguilla ticket but meant the team finished in eighth place and in the path of the heavy favorite.
Monterrey has been by far the best team of the tournament. Antonio “Turco” Mohamed’s men were first place for the longest time of the season and played the best football for most of it. Rayados was led by a great squad with players like Colombians Aviles Hurtado and Dorlan Pabon, Uruguayan National team star Carlos Sanchez and forward Rogelio Funes Mori. They got wins against the best and also got into the Copa MX final. While they had some bad moments during the season, including losses against both Puebla teams ( Club Puebla and Lobos BUAP) and close calls against Ascenso teams in the Copa MX, they were still able to come through. The cherry on top was their final league game. In it they faced their city rivals Tigres, who were coming in at second place. The game would eventually decide who was favored for the title, as well as giving the first place spot. Monterrey rose up to the occasion and won 2-0. As such, not only are they coming in as favorites but in an emotional high.
Atlas had some good signings coming into the season and were expected to do well. Argentinean forward Milton Caraglio came in from Tijuana and later on they would acquire ex England sensation, Ravel Morrison. Still, the season revolved around their star player, ex Mexican international Rafael Marquez. Marquez played well as Atlas started a solid season but then his life, and Atlas season, things would unravel. The US State Department placed Marquez on a list of persons (aka the Clinton list) accused of being involved in business dealing with drug cartels. The list meant Marquez’s visa for US travel was revoked and his US business transactions were frozen. Marquez took time out and stopped playing while he cleared his name with Mexican authorities. With his career in jeopardy, Atlas went into a bad tailspin and it looked like coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz was on his way to lose his job after getting eliminated by rival Chivas de Guadalajara in Copa MX. But the good news came in when Mexican authorities cleared Marquez and he returned to play. Atlas picked it up with this emotional boost and they were able to beat Chivas in league play and were almost set to go through to the Liguilla. A win against Pachuca would have given them the ticket but they conceded a goal in the final minute and had to wait on results. The results didn't come from Cruz Azul (who beat Veracruz to clinch a Liguilla spot) but did eventually come from Aguascalientes where Morelia beat Necaxa to give Atlas their ticket.
Atlas and their supporters are excited to return to the Liguilla but it would be the biggest upset in years for them to get through. Monterrey isn't only at the top spot of the Liga MX on results, they were the best team of the tournament. While it's still debatable if they have the best roster in the league, there is no question of who has the best roster in this series. Atlas will go for the shock, but this series is Monterrey's to lose.
Date: Thursday, November 23
Time: 7:30 PM Pacific, 9:30 PM Central, 10:30 PM Eastern
Venue: Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico
Television: Univision Deportes (US-Spanish), Azteca 7 (Mexico)
Streaming: fuboTV (Free trial + monthly subscription)
Listings via LiveSoccerTV.com.