Manuel Veth –
CONCACAF Champions League, and Copa MX midweek fixtures mean that games are coming thick, and fast for Liga MX clubs. Two Liga MX clubs—Pachuca’s will be at home against Dallas, and Tigres UANL will travel to Vancouver—will try to maintain Mexico’s dominance over the CONCACAF Champions League.
For the CONCACAF Champions League teams, this means that there will be no pause from what has been an action-packed Liga MX this weekend. There have been goals galore, and matchday 11 of the Torneo Clausura ended with Toluca, who beat Necaxa 2-0 on Sunday, on top of the table. With only six matches to go before the Liguilla kicks off, it is tough to say who will be in and who will be out of the playoffs after matchday 17.
But the CONCACAF Champions League teams will not be the only ones in action during the week. In fact, Copa MX should provide plenty of action for fans, who are not interested in the battle between Major League Soccer and Liga MX.
The recent history of Copa MX
The Copa MX was first established all the way back in 1907, but was not held between 1996 and 2012. Brought back in 2012, the Copa MX follows the same schedule of the Liga MX, which means that the cup is played out twice a season to determine an Apertura and a Clausura champion.
In the past, the tournament involved the 11 Liga MX sides that were not involved in international competitions (CONCACAF Champions League, and Copa Libertadores), as well as 13 teams from the Ascenso MX (second division). But with Liga MX withdrawing from the Copa Libertadores for this season, the format was changed in 2016.
The competition now includes 12 Liga MX teams—excluded are the CONCACAF Champions League teams, as well as the worst point-earner, and the newly promoted side—and 12 Ascenso MX teams, which will include the 11 best point producers, and the newly relegated team. Instead of a straight knockout stage, the tournament begins with nine groups, with three teams each, from which all the first- placed teams as well as the seven best second-placed teams advance to the round of 16.
The round of 16 knockout stages are then played over two legs before advancing to single game elimination after the quarterfinals. This sort of format does mean that Liga MX teams are given a heavy advantage. That does not, however, mean that the Copa MX is without upsets and drama.
This year, FC Juárez, better known as the Indios who were made famous by the book This Love Is Not For Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez, advanced from the group stage of the tournament, and then eliminated 2016 Apertura winnners Querétaro in the round of 16. They then faced Chivas from Guadalajara in the quarterfinals, where they took the lead twice thanks to the Brazilian striker, Lucas. It was only due to a penalty by Ángel Zaldívar and the 90 minutes of heroics by Javier Eduardo López that Guadalajara advanced.
The Copa MX games also provided some drama off the field after Liga MX referees decided to strike following several incidents during the round of 16 of the tournament. The strike meant that an entire Liga MX matchday had to be suspended, and was only resolved after two players were suspended for an entire year.
With the strike resolved and Liga MX back in action, the cup was able to resume. With the quarterfinals in the books four teams remain to determine the Copa MX Clausura title.
Copa MX Semi-Final – Morelia vs Cruz Azul – Tuesday 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET
Cruz Azul have had a Clausura to forget. In fact, only a victory in the Copa MX may somewhat salvage the season for La Maquina. The team recently lost 3-1 against relegation candidate Veracruz, who were scoreless in 491 minutes going into this game, and Cruz Azul looked like a team without an identity.
Cruz Azul head coach, Paco Jémez, who was heavily criticized for the defeat against Veracruz, will, therefore, look towards the cup competition to install confidence in his team. The team has only won one of their last five games—a 2-0 victory over Chiapas on March 4—and are currently in 15th spot in the Clausura. Furthermore, the club finished 14th in the Apertura, and if results do not pick up soon the club could be in the relegation battle as early as next year.
A final victory would therefore be the objective for the Blue Crosses, and they will certainly be the favourites when they meet Monarcas Morelia on Tuesday. Morelia were on the relegation spot going into the Clausura, but with 16 points out of 11 games have not only pulled away from the relegation spot, but also are within reach of the Liguilla. The latest results would in theory make Morelia the favourite going into this tie, but the Monarcas may chose to focus on the league instead, and could rest key players in this competition.
Copa MX Semi-Final – Monterrey vs Guadalajara – Wednesday 6:30 pm PT / 9:30 pm ET
Monterrey vs Chivas sees two heavyweights of the Liga MX pitted against one another. Guadalajara are currently second in the Liga MX Clausura standings, but are closely followed by Monterrey, who are two points behind in third place. Both teams were geared to take the top of the table ahead of matchday 11 in the league, but Guadalajara only managed a 0-0 draw against Morelia, and Monterrey fell 1-0 to Club América.
It is, therefore, hard to say who will be the favourite going into this match. Monterrey head coach, Antonio Mohamed, has experimented very little in league games, sticking to his best eleven in a bid to finish the league in a top position. The Monterrey coach could, therefore, use the Copa MX semi-final to experiment a bit. Experienced Uruguayan midfielder, Carlos Sánchez, could be brought in to give more regular starts a breather.
Chivas head coach, Matías Almeyda, in the meantime, has used the Copa MX to blood young talent, and it would, therefore, not be a surprise if he fields an experimental starting eleven in order that his first team players get some rest in what will be a challenging finish to the Liga MX Clausura. Perhaps with this in mind, Monterrey would be the small favourites going into this game, but, experimental squad or not, Chivas have shown this season that they are a dangerous side.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.