By Jose M. Romero
For FOX Deportes
It’s playoff time in the U.S. with basketball and hockey, and it’s also playoff time south of the border in the Mexican First Division of soccer.
“La Liguilla” begins Wednesday with the opening leg of the No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup and the 3 vs. 6 series. It’s Club America, which finished third in the regular season, against sixth-place Pachuca, and second-place Monterrey against the Xolos of Club Tijuana, which finished seventh in league play.
Club Tijuana is an interesting team to follow in that it is the closest top-flight Mexican team to the U.S., and it features three players on its roster that are American born – Greg Garza of Dallas, Edgar Castillo of New Mexico and Joe Corona from Los Angeles.
Corona, a midfielder, scored the first goal for Tijuana as first division team, on July 23, 2011. He also played very well in Olympic qualifying in March for the U.S. U-23-team, though it failed to earn spot in the Olympics, as was widely expected.
Castillo has been capped by the U.S. national team and the Mexican national team, a very rare achievement.
Another team to watch is Monterrey. The Rayados are coming off a very good week that saw them defeat regular-season champion Santos Laguna on aggregate goals in the CONCACAF Champions league two-leg title series, and therefore win the regional club championship. Then Monterrey topped Atlante in the regular-season finale three days later and earned second place.
Santos Laguna faces eighth-place Jaguares de Chiapas Thursday night, and the 4-5 matchup is a good one between Monarcas Morelia and Tigres UANL of Nuevo Leon, the defending Apertura season champions from 2011.
All four matchups play again on Saturday and Sunday, and by the end of the weekend, four teams will remain.
Santos has the pressure of being the No. 1 seed, but it was undefeated at home in the Clausura, as was Monterrey.
There’s talk of this being the last postseason for the league under the FMF, or Mexican football federation, banner. Team representatives have met and talked about breaking away from the FMF and forming a new Primera Division.
Nothing is set, but a move like this will bring several changes. One thing I wouldn’t like to see changed is the Liguilla. In other leagues around the world, the games just stop when the regular season comes to an end and the one at the top wins the league title. I say the more soccer, the better, and let’s allow eight teams to battle for the league trophy in a postseason tournament.
It’s very North American, and it’s fun, too.