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Liga MX Femenil recap: 2021 Apertura, Liguilla Quarterfinals

The quest to crown a new champion gets underway with some instant classics.

Casandra Montero (L) of Chivas fights for the ball with Angelica Palacios (R) of America during a match between Chivas and America as part of the Torneo Apertura 2021 Liga BBVA MX at Akron Stadium on October 11, 2021 in Zapopan, Mexico. Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images

The 2021 Apertura Liguilla finally got underway, and it didn’t disappoint. Fans in both Mexico and the United States were able to watch most games legally, and there was only one full game overlap with another partial, meaning fans could watch almost every minute of every game without having to result to split-screens. The matches themselves were for the most part competitive and entertaining, with only the series between Tigres and Cruz Azul being a blowout.

Atlas downs Santos: A good series between two good teams. The first match was an absolute classic, with the teams battling to a 2-2 draw in Torreón in the first ever Liguilla appearance for Santos. But Atlas was able to come out on top thanks to a 2-1 win in Guadalajara on Monday. Santos hung tough, but an Alison González goal and then red cards to Estela “Paleta” Gómez and coach Jorge Campos ensured Atlas was getting into the semifinals for just the second time in six Liguilla appearances. The good news is that González has help, with Fabiola Ibarra scoring two of Atlas’ four goals in the post-season. The bad news is that midfielder Zellyka Arce had to come out in the second match in the 66th minute with an injury, although the extent of that is not known at this time.

Tigres advances easily past Cruz Azul: Cruz Azul had an almost impossible task ahead of them, trying to dethrone the reigning champions and superlíder. Any notions that La Maquina would somehow pull it off were shattered in the fourth minute of the first match on a Stephany Mayor goal, and things only devolved from there. The series was all but a formality after Tigres lead at the end of the first half of the first match by 3-0, winning by 4-0. Only one team has ever scored five goals against Tigres at El Volcán; Chivas in the 2018 Clausura regular season in a 5-2 match. La Maquina needed to score five while keeping Tigres off of the board in the second and couldn’t do it, with Nancy Antonio also scoring in the fourth minute and Tigres eventually piling on the misery in another 4-0 win.

América edges out Chivas: A good series that both sides should be proud of, with América getting a good 2-1 win at home in the first leg and then shutting Chivas out in the second 0-0. Both teams looked nervous to start the series, but América was able to settle in fastest, especially after Sarah Luebbert’s sixth minute goal. Chivas made a game of it, but could only do so much as América was able to shackle Licha Cervantes and Renata Masciarelli put in a stellar performance in goal.

Rayadas survive Xolos Femenil: Another series that lived up to some high expectations. Rayadas and Tijuana ended each game 1-1, with Monterrey moving through to the next round having finished higher in the standings during the regular season. Xolos Femenil looked like they were going to get out of Tijuana with a 1-0 win until Desirée Monsiváis decided that wasn’t going to happen and leveled it in the 86th minute of the match. Then in the second match Angelina Hix put Tijuana up and gave them hope until Monsiváis again scored to give Monterrey the advantage. Monterrey should really get some momentum heading into the next round off of surviving such a punishing series.

Notes and other things:

Instead of doing a regular segment, instead I want to look back at the four teams that didn’t make it, where they went wrong, and why they should be excited for next season.

Santos Laguna

Where they went wrong: Santos ran up against a very good Atlas team that was peaking, and some self-inflicted wounds wound up making the difference. The Zellyka Arce goal was a bad one to give up, especially so late in the match and at home, and it wound up turning the tide of the series. And Paleta Gómez’ second yellow really sealed Santos’ fate.

Why they should be excited for next season: Santos really has some good, quality players that don’t get a lot of national exposure. Cinthya Peraza has gotten a lot of the attention with her national team call up, but Alexia Villanueva quietly had eleven goals (as quietly as one can have eleven goals) this season and it was unfortunate she missed the first leg due to a red card. Gómez is another player that doesn’t get a lot of credit, and her being sent off should not define expectations of her. She has both creativity and physicality on the wing that make her so hard to defend, especially when she lowers the shoulder and cuts in centrally. Santos’ defense is also solid, with Nicole Buenfil looking every bit as solid as Wendy Toledo in net.

Cruz Azul

Where they went wrong: Cruz Azul’s run of form during the last few weeks of the season relegated them to playing Tigres, which isn’t really where any team wants to be. Still, they allowed Tigres to score early and often, ending the series before the first 45 minutes had even played out.

Why they should be excited for next season: Like Santos, this was the team’s first venture into the Liguilla and it should give them confidence that they can reach it again. They’ve got some solid players to build on who have been with the club for a while, like Daniela Monroy who has played almost every game Cruz Azul has had and is just 19 years old. They also make smart acquisitions, picking up solid players like Karime Abud, Magaly Cortés, Karla Zempoalteca, and Nancy Zaragoza along the way, all of whom were instrumental in this season’s success. If they can make a couple more smart signings, they could be a fixture of the Liguilla for quite a few seasons to come.

Chivas

Where they went wrong: Chivas started cold and just couldn’t ever seem to get anything going. América exposed their over-reliance on Licha Cervantes, and once Chivas were behind in the series it was going to be difficult to come back.

Why they should be excited for next season: It’s easy to bandy about and say teams are one player away from being a championship contender, but Chivas honestly are one player away from being a championship contender. Over-reliance on a single player is pretty easy to solve: simply get another good player to divert some of the pressure off of Licha. Chivas might not even have to spend all that much to bring in someone, be it from picking up a free agent during the offseason or even getting a Mexican-American player from the NCAA system to come in. The team is foundationally solid, and for all of the grief that Chore Mejía got (and perhaps deservedly so) for coming in with zero experience with the women’s game, he’s proven himself a competent manager.

Club Tijuana

Where they went wrong: This one’s possibly the hardest to define, because they held Monterrey to two goals over a two-legged series and were beaten by one of the all-time greats.

Why they should be excited for next season: The biggest knock on Tijuana was always that it was easy to beat them because Renae Cuéllar can’t do it all on her own for an entire season. They brought in Angelina Hix, and all of the sudden Cuéllar doesn’t have to win every game for Tijuana anymore. Hix is such a threat along the right wing. Much like Santos’ Gómez she is both creative and physical on the wing, able to ping a pinpoint pass at full speed from the touchline or drop the shoulder and cut inside to shoot. This has opened Cuéllar up and allowed Tijuana to keep the midfield and defense deeper, knowing Cuéllar, Hix, Sanjuana Muñoz, Esmeralda Verdugo, and Dulce Alvarado are also there and fully capable of causing additional problems for opposing defenses. Credit should also be given to Fabiola Vargas, who got the most out of the players she had at Necaxa and is getting the most out of who she has in Tijuana. This team could have advanced to the second round and given anyone problems. With that kind of season under their belts, there’s no reason they can’t improve in 2022.

Semifinal round (all times as listed):

Friday, December 10:

3 Atlas vs. 2 Monterrey - 11:00 AM - TVC Deportes (Mexico)

5 América vs. 1 Tigres UANL - 8:00 PM - TUDN (United States and Mexico), YouTube

Monday, December 13:

1 Tigres UANL vs. 5 América - 7:00 PM - TUDN (United States and Mexico), Facebook

2 Monterrey vs. 3 Atlas - 9:00 PM - FOX Sports (Mexico)