Week 16 of the 2023 Clausura is now done and dusted! Looking back at a busy weekend in the top flight of Mexican men's soccer, here are three talking points and some additional observations from Liga MX.
Playoff picture becomes more clear ahead of final week
A quick update on Liga MX's playoff format. After the end of the regular season this week, the top 12 teams in the standings will qualify for the Liguilla. While the top four teams will enter the playoffs in the quarterfinal stage, clubs placed between fifth through twelfth will take part in a single-leg play-in round that will determine the four additional quarterfinalists.
At the moment, only first-place Monterrey have guaranteed themselves a place in the quarterfinals, which then leaves Club America, Chivas, Toluca, Pachuca and Leon all fighting for three spots remaining in the top four.
Although Tigres and Cruz Azul don't have enough points left to qualify for the top four, both teams have already earned invitations to the play-in round. What that then leaves is a thrilling end to the season in which the next eight teams in the standings (No. 9-16) will be battling it out for the final four spots of the play-in round.
With only Necaxa and Mazatlan officially out of the running for the playoffs, a whopping total of 16 of the league's 18 teams are still in the running for the Liguilla in the final weekend of the regular season. Don't miss any of the action in Week 17.
Club America's Martin nears scoring title
After scoring the equalizer in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Pumas in the Clasico Capitalino, the Mexican forward now has 14 goals to his name and a two-goal cushion over Quiñones.
Not bad for a 30-year-old that has never won Liga MX's goalscoring award.
Often overshadowed by more prominent strikers in the league (and the Mexico national team), Martin has racked up at least seven goals every season for the Aguilas since his 2018 arrival. Highly questioned by his lack of production with Club Tijuana before moving to Mexico City, Martin has turned into a burly striker that is excellent in the air and accurate in front of goal.
With his confidence at an all-time high and as the team's new captain in 2023, there was no doubt who would take the penalty when Club America were given one in the second half of Saturday's clash at Estadio Azteca. Calmly standing near the spot, the forward rushed toward the ball and slotted it into the back of the net, thereby earning an equalizer in their eventual 1-1 draw and avoiding just their second defeat of the season.
With just a lone loss all campaign and in second place behind league leaders Monterrey, things are looking promising for Club America and Martin. A goalscoring title will more than likely land in his hands, and once the playoffs begin, another more impactful trophy could soon be earned if he continues his form.
Chivas continue renaissance under Paunovic
Once a struggling mid-table team late last year, Chivas have recently been reawakened by the winter hiring of manager Veljko Paunovic. With three wins in a row and a 31-point tally, the Liga MX giants have now had their best regular season in over a decade and are on the cusp of earning a direct spot into the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
"It's a perfect flock that we have," said the Serbian coach after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Cruz Azul. "[A] confirmation of the determination that this group of players has, to do something historic, to pursue a dream, to recover the identity and tradition that it [the club] has."
Granted, their game-winner on Saturday came off a mistake, but that likely won't matter for a Chivas squad that now find themselves behind Monterrey and Club America in the league table. Thanks to Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jose Corona fumbling the ball in the 75th minute, Chivas forward Ronaldo Cisneros pounced on the opportunity that put the home side up 2-1 at the Estadio Akron.
¡RO-NA-L-DO 🤩!— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) April 23, 2023
🐐 @RonaldoCM97 aprovecha un rebote de Corona y le da la vuelta al marcador con su segundo gol del Clausura 2023.
🐐 Chivas 2-1 Cruz Azul 🚂
📺 EN VIVO por @Telemundo y @peacock 👉 https://t.co/0DOGpTVLx5#ChivasEnTelemundo pic.twitter.com/noAxlayglf
Initially down 1-0 after Cruz Azul's Uriel Antuna scored in the 37th minute -- and later shushed Chivas' Antonio Briseño -- the response from the Guadalajara club was noteworthy with their countless interceptions and nine shots in the second half that helped lead to a win.
Defensively solid and highly organized, Paunovic's side showed an immense amount of character against Cruz Azul, and most importantly, they showcased why they're going to be title-contenders once the playoffs begin. No longer stumbling over themselves as they have over the last handful of years, one of North America's biggest clubs, if not the biggest, could soon have another championship within reach.
And doing so would be incredible for a team that has only been led by their manager since November.
- Elsewhere in Week 16: French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac scored the game-winner for Tigres in a 1-0 win over Puebla, league-leaders Monterrey gained a 2-0 away victory against Mazatlan, Atlas' Quiñones scored twice in a 3-1 win vs. Necaxa, Tijuana and Leon earned a goalless draw, defending champions Pachuca secured a 2-1 comeback victory against Atletico San Luis, FC Juarez scored a second half equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Toluca, and Santos Laguna suffered their fourth defeat at home in a 2-0 loss to Queretaro.
- Santos Laguna announced on Monday that they had dropped manager Eduardo Fentanes. Hired in February of 2022, the Mexican manager led the team to the quarterfinals last season but fell below expectations in 2023 with a 5W-4D-7L record in the Clausura.
- The league released a statement on Saturday that condemned fights that broke outside of the Estadio Caliente before Club Tijuana vs. Leon. The clashes follow seven arrests that were made earlier this month at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer during an April 16 match between Monterrey and Santos Laguna.
- The CONCACAF Champions League returns this week with the first legs of the semifinal round that will ensure a Liga MX vs. MLS matchup for the final. Tigres will host Leon on April 25 and the Philadelphia Union will host LAFC on April 26.