Unlike many leagues in the region, Liga MX doesn't screw around when it comes to the postseason. The matches come fast and furious, with hardly a break for teams to catch their breath once they clinch a spot in the eight-team Liguilla.
Three days after the last regular season match, the quarterfinals begin, and the weekday-weekend pattern continues for three weeks until a champion is decided. Or at least, that's usually how it works.
This year, there's a wrinkle Club America has made the final thanks to a 3-1 aggregate win over Necaxa. Club America also has made the Club World Cup thanks to its 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League crown. With America off to Japan as these words are being written, something had to give. So, instead of the quick turnaround teams and fans are used to, the Liga MX championship will be decided 21 days after the final two teams were decided.
Tigres manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti expressed frustration about having to keep his team around preparing for two matches over two and a half weeks, but this has been the plan since America won the CCL in the spring. If Las Aguilas soared to the league final, the first leg would be Dec. 22, with the second falling on Christmas Day.
That's the scenario we find ourselves in. While it's not ideal, the good news is that this final is good enough to hold off on for a bit. It might've been fun to have a surprise finalist like recently promoted Necaxa or No. 8 seed Leon, but we've got two power teams, two huge clubs with plenty of stars going at it. While the underdog story might appeal, the superstars going at it will have even more luster.
Ricardo La Volpe's America side still hasn't lost since the veteran coach took over in late September, and while his tactics have been curious in the Liguilla, they've gotten the team this far. Just before the postseason, he tweaked the team into his preferred 5-3-2 formation, with previously seldom-used American defender Ventura Alvarado thrust into the right wing back spot and 19-year-old Edson Alvarez the third center back. Rubens Sambueza's injury saw "El Bigoton" try Oribe Peralta out as a left midfielder, an experiment that hasn't produced fruit but continues to be watered by La Volpe.
The team plays better when another attacker is taken off and Peralta can push up to a center forward role (both goals — including this one from Peralta — came after he made this switch around the hour mark, with Osvaldo Martinez coming on and Silvio Romero coming off).
America has been fun to watch, and how it progresses in Japan after an abysmal showing there in 2015 will be eagerly tracked by fans across the continent. Perhaps nobody will be watching closer than Tigres, though. It could've been Ferretti's men causing the issue with the calendar, but their back line wasn't strong enough to hold America at the Azteca in the second leg. There will no doubt be some bitterness that they're sitting at home waiting and training while America is representing the region abroad.
Far more than second-best in the CCL, though, Tigres have impressed more than America so far this postseason. Andre-Pierre Gignac has five goals in the team's last three matches after a hat trick in the second leg of a quarterfinal win over Pumas and a goal in each leg of a 3-1 aggregate win over Leon in the semifinals.
It's not just Gignac who can score, though, and the break could help a Tigres team that has been a bit beat up. Lucas Zelarayan came off the bench to score this stunning goal against Leon, and getting him and Luis Quinones back as starting options may intrigue Ferretti.
The team's hallmark is its stingy defense, and how Tigres' experienced back line handles an America attack will be an interesting talking point heading into the match, as will how America will shut down all of Tigres' firepower.
We'll have plenty of time to talk about those themes, to break down individual matchups and even get our shopping done. We're going to have to wait for this final, but the two mustachioed managers will eventually take a cue from their friend in facial hair Santa Claus and serve up exactly what was on our lists — an Apertura final worth the wait.