For the first time in the Almeyda Era, Chivas has reached a semifinal. The Rebaño were able to squeak by crosstown rival Atlas by the bare minimum in a match where only one of the Guadalajara clubs showed up. Their opponent in the semis is none other than Toluca, a club El Rebaño is very familiar with in Liguillas. Toluca for their part, defeated Santos in a closely contested quarterfinal, which almost saw them eliminated after they gave up three goals at home in the second leg. The first leg is set for Thursday night with Chivas having the daunting task of visiting la Bombonera.
This will be the eighth time these two teams will have faced off in a Liguilla with Toluca currently leading the series, five to two. Their most recent Liguilla encounter came in the 2012 Apertura, where Toluca defeated Chivas in the quarterfinal by an aggregate score of 5-1. While Toluca holds the series edge, most Chivas fans will remember the 2006 Apertura final in which Chivas defeated Toluca 2-1 in la Bombonera to claim their eleventh title.
After a rough start to the Liguilla, Chivas seem to be heading in the right direction. Matias Almeyda was finally able to get over the quarterfinal hump, which surely relieved a lot of pressure off of everyone. The team is still experiencing a very large goal scoring deficiency but the return of key players at this stage in the Liguilla will be essential. Rodolfo Pizarro, Chivas’ key signing in the offseason, had been out for the final part of the season and when he returned in the second leg of the quarterfinals, his presence was felt. Pizarro provided that stability and possession that had been missing for weeks. He was the missing piece to this midfield trident that had been missing. While Gallito does a great job recovering possession similar to a Sergio Busquets and Orbelin is the magician with his runs ala Andres Iniesta, Pizarro is Chivas’ Xavi Hernandez, who is able to hold on to the ball and slow the pace down or put through the perfect pass.
Pizarro’s return along with Angel Zaldivar is exactly what Chivas’ need this at this stage in the game. Carlos Fierro, Nestor Calderon and Michael Perez, while all having completed an adequate job in their roles are certainly not of the ilk of those two players. The ability to have these two plugged back in the starting lineup will be essential if Chivas is to advance to the final and will bring back the depth to the lineup that Almeyda had earlier in the season.
Toluca, for their part, started off the Liguilla hot, they went and did what very few teams could do this season. They went into Torreon and defeated Santos Laguna 4-1 and built a comfortable lead heading into the final leg. The second leg was a completely different story and Toluca was almost eliminated after going down 3-1 in the 60th minute of the second leg. Los Diablos Rojos were able to hold on, but it left many questions for the club heading into the semis.
When these teams met earlier in the season Chivas dominated Toluca at Estadio Chivas in a game that ended with large implications for both Clubs. For Chivas they lost Isaac Brizuela for the remainder of the season, while Toluca lost their best player Ruben Sambueza through suspension for eight weeks. The return of Sambueza is key for Toluca’s success, as the player has proven to be a thorn in Chivas’ side in recent history. If somehow Sambueza is able to maintain a level head while playing, he will surely produce a lot of problems for Chivas.
Both teams started out the quarterfinals on the opposite end of the spectrum and both teams closed out the final legs of the quarterfinals in the opposite end as well. With all of the history between these two clubs, this series is sure to be very tightly contested.
Date: Thursday, May 18
Time: 5:30 PM Pacific, 7:30 PM Central, 8:30 PM Eastern
Venue: Estadio Nemesio Diez, Toluca, Mexico
Television: Univision Deportes (US-Spanish), Unimas (US-Spanish),
Streaming: fuboTV (Free trial + monthly subscription)