Liga MX playoff preview: What to watch for in Cruz Azul-Club America and every other Liguilla quarterfinal

Milton Caraglio Cruz Azul
Hector Vivas
Who will win each Liga MX playoff series and which player will be the X-Factor in each series? Goal takes a look at the upcoming postseason...

The Liga MX playoffs are here, with eight teams emerging from the regular season to fight it out for the title.

The quarterfinals served up a number of solid matchups, none more enticing than the rematch of the Apertura title match between Cruz Azul and Club America. While that will have nearly everyone in Mexico City tuning in, there's good football to be had outside the capital as well with both Monterrey teams still rolling along and a record-setting Superlider in Leon eager to prove their regular season was no fluke.

Let's make a case for each team involved in each matchup to move on and look at who could make the difference in each series: 

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Tigres vs. Pachuca


Luis Quinones Tigres

First leg: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET Second Leg: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET Regular season: Tigres 3-0 Pachuca on March 3

Why Tigres will win: They're talented, deep and have been here before. Tigres have one of the best rosters in the Americas, and the addition of Carlos Salcedo at center back this season helped them allow fewer than one goal per match. They weren't as dazzling as usual up front, but Andre-Pierre Gignac was out much of the season with a knee injury. The French forward, plus Enner Valencia, Eduardo Vargas, Javier Aquino and Jurgen Damm will challenge any back line - especially Pachuca's which is the worst left in the postseason.

Why Pachuca will win: While Tuca Ferretti sure seemed concerned about winning the league with his roster decisions. it still has to be an enormous letdown to lose the Concacaf Champions League - especially in the manner Tigres did. Edwin Cardona is generating loads of chances - with his .88 big chances created per 90 minutes per SoccerNurds leading the league - and Franco Jara and Leonardo Ulloa in front of him are doing a decent job finishing them off.   

X-Factor: It's tempted to complicate things and say Tuzos midfielder Victor Guzman. While he should make an impact on the series, Andre-Pierre Gignac is an X-Factor in nearly every match he plays in. He's scored in the last two matches he's played in, and he didn't earn the "Mr. Liguilla" nickname for nothing. If APG is locked in, Tigres should move on.


Leon vs. Tijuana


Angel Mena Leon

First leg: Wednesday, 10:06 p.m. ET Second Leg: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET Regular season: Leon 0-1 Tijuana on January 20

Why Leon will win: Simply put, they've been the best team in the league all season. Nacho Ambriz's side came out of nowhere to score more goals (41) than any other team, allow fewer goals (14) than any other team and win more games in a row than not just any other team this season or in recent memory but in history. Angel Mena leading the goalscoring table gets attention, but the defensive improvement this tournament over last, spearheaded by Ramiro Gonzalez Hernandez and William Tesillo locking down the left side has been remarkable. 

Why Tijuana will win: Xolos come into the playoffs rolling, scoring four goals in both of their previous two matches to lock up the final Liguilla place. The defense is solid and while it feels like ages ago, Tijuana was the last club to beat Leon at home. If Gustavo Bou, Ariel Nahuelpan or Jesus Angulo can break through and get a goal, Xolos might have the muscle needed to protect a lead. Plus, weird things happen in 1 v. 8 matchups in the Liguilla.

X-Factor: Mena and Luis Montes are known quantities in Liga MX. Tijuana center back Julian Velazquez has been the rock in the middle of the Xolos back line and needs to cover for whoever plays next to him in the series if there's any hope of keeping the high-scoring Fiera off the scoresheet.

More: Oscar Pareja tells Goal that Leon is the best team in Mexico, but his club is ready to start from zero to try and knock off the superlider.


Monterrey vs. Necaxa


Dorlan Pabón Monterrey Sporting Kansas City CCL 2019

First leg: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET Second Leg: Sunday, 11 p.m. ET Regular season: Monterrey 2-2 Necaxa on April 27

Why Rayados will win: Did you see what they did in the Concacaf Champions League final? This is a team with a shut-down defense and a transition game that is straight-up frightening. Once they get the ball back - which they will - and push forward - they'll do that too - the ball will go to the feet of an attacker like Rogelio Funes Mori, Dorlan Pabon or Aviles Hurtado who absolutely can finish off that chance. 

Why Necaxa will win: You have to wonder if Necaxa itself even believes it will win. Brian Fernandez, the team's top scorer, would've been suspended anyway for these games but already is in Oregon getting used to life with the Portland Timbers. That said, the Rayos are on a bit of a hot streak, coming into the playoffs unbeaten in their last four, and managed to get a draw with a second-choice Rayados side just two weeks ago. In fact, Necaxa has avoided defeat to Monterrey in their last four meetings.

X-Factor: Nicolas Sanchez is Monterrey's second-leading scorer after netting three goals from the penalty spot and one from the run of play in the regular season, but his contributions at the back are much more critical in keeping the pressure off goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero.

More: Check out Goal's chat with Necaxa defender Ventura Alvarado, coming out Thursday.


Cruz Azul vs. Club America


Miguel Herrera Club America

First leg: Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET Second Leg: Sunday, 7:10 p.m. ET Regular season: America 0-0 Cruz Azul on April 14

Why Cruz Azul will win: La Maquina quietly clicked on toward the end of the season and haven't lost a game since February. The list of teams defeated in that stretch isn't impressive (Necaxa, Atlas, Pachuca, Queretaro, Pumas, Lobos BUAP) and contains just a pair of fellow Liguilla teams, but Pedro Caixinha's squad is rising to the occasion when it needs to. Players like Orbelin Pineda and Yoshi Yotun are in the groove after slow starts to life at the club, and with Milton Caraglio, Edgar Menez and Roberto Alvarado in the ranks, there are threats that defenses need to deal with going forward.

Why Club America will win: First of all, they're playing Cruz Azul, which despite how tired the memes are about always losing has earned that reputation for a reason. There is the experience factor as well, with Las Aguilas coming in as reigning champions. It was a weird tournament for Miguel Herrera's side, but now they're into the Liguilla on the back of consecutive victories. Few teams have anything like the midfield pairing of Edson Alvarez and Guido Rodriguez. If they can get a few goals, they'll be cooking with gas.

X-Factor: Milton Caraglio has scored nine goals in his last seven matches and has a season total of 11, more than double that of America's top scorer Nicolas Castillo. With each team having a back line that has played together for some time now, it could be a tight series, and an in-form scorer may make the difference.

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