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Liga MX Femenil Liguilla Roundtable

Liga MX Femenil columnists Melina Gaspar, Melissa Castro, and Eugene Rupinski weigh in on what should be a fun Liguilla.

Goalkeeper of Tijuana Siena Ruelas kicks the ball during the 11th round match between Santos Laguna and Tijuana as part of the Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Femenil at Corona Stadium on September 12, 2022 in Torreon, Mexico. Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images

Ahead of the 2022 Apertura Liguila, our three Liga MX Femenil columnists sat down for a round table to discuss who made it, who didn’t, and what to expect over the coming weeks. Melina Gaspar, Melissa Castro, and Eugene Rupinski talked for over half an hour, discussing who made it into the Liguilla, who didn’t, and who they thought would to go far.

First the discussion centered around who did, and didn’t make it. Gaspar wasn’t really surprised who made it in. “Juárez did a good job but not good enough,” she said, adding that new manager Mila Martínez “didn’t have enough time to put a team together that was very powerful to get them to lead.” She also had hoped León could come out of it, but pointed out their inconsistencies and Atlas stumbling during the regular season.

Castro was surprised that Cruz Azul made it and Pumas didn’t, pointing out “I just thought ‘it’s gonna be the last day.’ (I knew) it was gonna be like down to the wire.” But Rupinski wasn’t convinced by Pumas.

“I was looking at their last like five games and it was against like, Monterrey, Chivas... America,” he said. “I just didn’t see them getting any sort of results against those teams... but I was just looking at (the schedule) and going ‘yeah, that’s that’s gonna be a miracleif they pull that off.’ ” Gaspar pointed out that “between Monterey and America, (they scored) twelve goals in just two matches” against Pumas, drawing groans and laughs.

Rupinski’s surprises who made it and didn’t were intertwined. “I’m surprised Toluca made it and I’m surprised Leon didn’t make it. If Leon had beaten Toluca in that last game, they would have made it.” And if they made it, he continued “I thought for sure León would have had the momentum.”

What finally sunk León however was the schedule. In the final calendar week of the season, they played three games and while they won the first two, but “I don’t think they had it left in them to beat Toluca.” Castro pointed out something Gaspar had said earlier, noting “León just shot themselves in the foot this season. After they tied América early in the season. I was like, ‘okay, Leon’s gonna do this.’ “ But they ultimately fell flat.

The talk then went on to the teams that did make it, focusing on the first match of the Liguilla between Cruz Azul and Chivas. Gaspar pointed out that “Chivas has Licha Cervantes back again. She proved she’s ready to go in the last match Chivas played, so I don’t think they stand a chance.”

“The other the other thing,” Gaspar continued, “is they won’t play on their (regular) field, because it doesn’t meet the conditions. In the Liguilla they will use VAR, so they cannot play on their own field, and they will play at Estadio Azteca. That will be another blow for them,” pointing out that their regular field at La Noria was turf.

Adding to the home field not giving the home side an advantage, Castro wondered if “there’s gonna be more than more Chivas fans (at the match), because every time they play, like when they played last there’s always so many (Chivas) fans there.” Both Gaspar and Rupinski agreed that they probably would outnumber Cruz Azul fans.

Rupinski added in “I don’t see much of a chance for Cruz Azul... especially with all this going on and with Chivas being as good as they are with the change of venue. I just I don’t I don’t see it happening,” with Gaspar adding “I just hope that they can have at least one game that it’s like kind of even. And then, of course, Chivas will do its job.”

When it came to the matchup between Pachuca and Monterey, it was somewhat less certain for the higher seed. Castro said that she thought that anything could happen. “Part of me thinks that... Pachuca is gonna come in, do what they do, and surprise everyone.” But she also pointed out that they struggled throughout the season. When Gaspar was asked for her take, she simply said “I think that they lost to Mazatlán 3-0,” which elicited a lot of laughter. She did go on to say that “maybe Pachuca can do it, as they have good players. But I don’t see that happening because it’s against Monterrey.

The conversation turned to Jenni Hermoso’s availability, with Rupinski noting that “even if she is (back), I don’t think she would be 100% and she really hasn’t played much with them. She only got in a couple of games with them before she got injured,” and with the role that she plays “she needs to be on the same page with her teammates, and I just don’t think she’s there.”

He went on to say “I’m with both of you. I think Pachuca will give a good account of themselves. I think they’ll show up and they’ll make it difficult for Monterrey. I can even see them getting a win or a draw at home against Monterrey, but I don’t see them going to Monterrey and getting anything,” especially with how inconsistent they’ve been over hte year.

As for Toluca and Tigres, Castro was hopeful Toluca could keep it close but not convinced. “Tigres is Tigres, you know?” She said she liked how the offense looked under new coach Carmelina Moscato, noting that “you can just see the happiness on their faces, and you can see them happy as as a team.” Gaspar pointed out that while Tigres still in a familiar position in the Liguilla that they hadn’t quite shown the same level as in past seasons. Perhaps, she wondered, if “its because we are paying more attention to other teams (that) we haven’t in the past.”

They did however have a good season, but “I don’t see them like this almighty team (that) they were in the past. But I think of course that against against Toluca, they are going to win. I don’t know if the it’s going to be for a wide margin, like some people say, but I think they are going to win.”

Rupinski largely agreed, echoing Castro’s “Tigres is Tigres” sentiment, and said that Tigres “is a lot more fundamentally sound than they have been. And when you have players like Uche Kanu, who really would had a quiet season but (also have) Mia Fishel (who) went off, and Stephanie Mayor kind of has gone from a pure goal scorer now to more of like a creator kind of kind of thing, i’s it’s been it’s been fun to watch that team grow into what they are.” Gaspar then pointed out goalkeeper Ceci Santiago’s inconsistencies this season. “She hasn’t been that good this season. If they test her with shots from outside the box, or for example, in (one-on-ones), we have seen her failing.”

Rupinski and Castro both agreed with this assessment, with Rupinski pointing out the scoring threats Toluca has in Mariel Roman, Sanjuana Muñoz, and Destinney Duron and Castro noting “if it happens, and Toluca is able to beat Tigres, I really think it’s gonna be from errors from (Santiago) because she has been off this season, which is really weird to see.

For the final series between Tijuana and América, the trio thought this one could be the one that produced an upset. No one seemed sure if either América’s Kiana Palacios or Tijuana’s Angelina Hix would be able to play in the first game, with both battling injures as well as being key cogs in their respective team’s offense. Gaspar pointed out that during the “last Liguilla they played at Estadio Azteca, and they had a lot of people there cheering for them, and they lost. So they are kind of they have unfinished business.”

While Gaspar seemed pretty confident in América’s abilities, Castro wasn’t so sure. “I think this can go either way. I honestly don’t know who will make it through, just because Tijuana I feel like has been better this season.” She went on to note the previous season they had to almost sneak into the Liguilla, while this season “they (were able to) secure their spot a couple of games ago, and they just look all around better this time around... and then (with) America, we’ve just seen them shoot themselves in the foot a couple times. It’s all defensive errors that like from what I’ve seen, and obviously they have great offensive weapons. But it’s their defense. that sometimes it can be a little shaky.” She brought up their collapse in the clásico with Chivas where they conceded twice late to see the match end 2-2.

Gaspar brought up her doubts about América’s ability to score and the weight one player in particular was carrying. “Everybody’s counting on Katty Martínez to score four like she did two games ago. But I don’t know. I don’t see it.” She brought up Martínez and Alison González’ inconsistencies and Martínez’ benching, noting that “I don’t see her really making a big difference. You know, she’s still carrying that burden of Mexico not qualifying for the World Cup. So I think that what the decision of the coach regarding the starting eleven will make a huge difference.”

Rupinski seemed more impressed by Tijuana, noting “they’ve been decent for a few seasons now, but I think this year was the first year where they actually looked good.” He noted América had an up-and-down season, saying “they’ll have a really good game and then they’ll lose one nothing to Puebla.” He went on to say “I think the striker situation is going to be tough. Even if you have Kiana can play, she’s not going to be 100% most likely, Katty Martinez has had a difficult season. And Alison Gonzalez really hasn’t gotten her legs back underneath of her” after taking almost an entire year to come back from a horrific injury suffered while she was still with Atlas.

He also talked about how much of a home field advantage Tijuana has. “It’s a long flight, and players aren’t used to that. It’s also playing on that turf... it’s a lot different than playing in the Azteca or something like that. So it’s not a it’s not a fun trip for for teams, and especially if you go there and you lose, and you got to sit on a on a plane for three and a half hours in silence going back to Mexico City. So I think I think it could really be a situation where Tijuana and can pull an upset and and go on into the into the next round.”

”I would love to see” a Tijuana win, he continued, “because if we see the top four seeds win, like we’ve seen happen almost (every other season), it’s the same four (teams) as always: it’s Chivas, it’s Rayadas, it’s Tigres, and it’s América. That’s just kind of how it’s always been, and that ‘s boring.”

Castro said she thought “Tijuana would be the most likely out of the bottom four to upset the whole entire Liguilla. I think they’re the only ones that could do it.” Gaspar asked who the other two thought would win in the end, which drew a lot of laughs but also some introspection on what that meant. Castro said “I honestly don’t know (who wins it all) this season.” Rupinski followed that by saying “This is the first season in a while that it hasn’t really been clear-cut who the finalists will be.” Gaspar pointed out that “the fact that we don’t see a clear winner is proof that the league is growing despite what happened to the national team. It’s grown. It’s evolved.”

And ultimately that growth was on display for all to see, making for some fun viewing along the way.