I spoke with Mariano Trujillo, former Liga MX left back and current analyst on FOX Deportes, about the upcoming Liguilla matchups.
I started by asking if he thought eighth seed Tijuana could defeat the top seed León and if there was a rivalry between the two clubs.
“There is a rivalry obviously because of what happened in the Ascenso MX. They do have some rivalry going on between them,” he said. As far as León’s chances however he was less certain. “To be honest, I don’t know. I’m a little skeptical about León. I know the had a great season, they had an amazing 12 victories in a row, but the Liguilla is a different tournament.”
He explained that as good as León were in the regular season, the Liguilla is a completely separate thing altogether. “You have to be able to play with a lot of aspects that you (don’t) have to deal with in the regular season with the pressures. They were in first place, they were the best team, they had the leading scorer, they had the best defense, so there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of people thinking that León might win the championship.”
But a recent conversation with Xolos manager Óscar Pareja shed some new light on the position León is in. “He said that they (Tijuana) feel comfortable being the underdog,” noting that “when he was with FC Dallas they were the favorites, and the players couldn’t handle that pressure. So being on the other side he feels comfortable with it now.”
Regardless of the outcome, Pareja’s first season in charge of Tijuana should be viewed as a success. “It was a rough season in the beginning of the season, so then being in the playoffs is ‘mission accomplished’ for Xolos. So whatever they get in the playoffs will be good. With that approach, I think they are very dangerous. They have good players with (Ariel) Nahuelpán and (Gustavo) Bou are connected in the series I think they can be trouble for León, and obviously they were one of the few teams that beat León in León so I don’t know I am a little bit skeptical about (León’s chances).”
We then moved on to Tigres and whether Tuca Ferretti and team would be back to get another shot at a Concacaf Champions League title.
Trujillo said that Tigres’ main goal “was the Concacaf Champions League, because they haven't been able since Tuca arrived at Tigres to internationally get silverware, get a trophy. They have been close with Copa Libertadores but they couldn’t get it, and I think Concacaf Champions League was right there for them to take it but Monterrey played very well.”
“So they’re an experienced team, they know how to play in the Liguilla,” he continued before qualifying it by saying that “Tuca has a bunch of experience, but I think they’re lacking a few positions where in the past they were very strong. Especially on the left side, the left back position they’ve been shuffling around players changing from different positions, modifications with the center backs, so they’ve been struggling throughout the tournament to fill those gaps.”
All is not lost for Tigres however. “Mentally the quality is there. Gignac is coming back, Vargas is playing very well, Valencia... I can name the whole roster and they will have quality,” he said. This too came with a caveat. “I’ve watched a couple of games and they are not synchronized defensively. They’re not organized well and I don’t see the same chemistry that in the past they won tournaments so I don’t know to be honest. Same as León I know they have tons of quality I know they’re ok first and second but I don’t know. I will wait a little bit on that. I don’t think they’re not my favorite to win the championship this year.”
Next we talked about Monterrey and Necaxa. I asked if he thought Necaxa had a shot before Brian Fernández left for the Portland Timbers, and he thought they had any shot now at beating Monterrey.
“I don’t think so,” he said matter-of-factly. “Monterrey is the favorite in this year because of the roster, the quality, and because of the momentum they have right now. They struggled a little bit throughout the season in certain critical moments but I think they’re past that now that they won the Concacaf Champions League against Tigres at home, so I think they’re in a different state of mind now.”
“Because of that, I don’t see how Necaxa can defeat Monterrey -especially without Brian Fernández.” Trujillo continues by saying that Fernández “was an important player for Necaxa and that changes everything. It was just one player but you can find a rhythm and a flow offensively with players that are constantly on the field, and not having Brian I think is going to be hard for Necaxa. Even with Brian I think Rayados is way better than Necaxa especially after accomplishing what they just did they’re my favorites to win the championship this year.”
Finally we talked about the upcoming Clásico Joven and with both Club América and Cruz Azul being pretty even coming into this, with both having good mangers and strong squads. I asked who he saw emerging from this victorious.
He said that he believes that América has the advantage over their neighborhood rivals. “They know how to play these stages. They know that they have the mental advantage over Cruz Azul - even if the players don’t want to say it. Once they’re on the field all of the bad memories (from the 2018 Apertura Final) are going to come back, even if some of them weren’t there. I think that’s going to play out in América’s favor.”
Trujillo continued by saying “I recently spoke with one of the assistant coaches (at Club América) and I told him what I saw: That América is a very mature team. They know how to play. They know when to put a little pace into the game. How to slow down. When to slow down. Nico Castillo is back. Oribe Peralta is back Even Jeremy Ménez is back. He’s not having (many) minutes, but he‘s available so I think everything is coming together for América to have a very good Liguilla. I think América is going to be victorious against Cruz Azul.”