Liga MX delivered.
It's tempting to say it always does, but this weekend was special. Specifically the 9 p.m. Mexico time kickoffs Saturday with five matches, all having playoff or relegation implications, was special. At various times, America and Pachuca were going to the playoffs. Chiapas was staying in the top division and Monarcas were going down.
None of that happened. And the biggest moment of the night was a late goal from the foot of Raul Ruidiaz. Let's begin there as we take a look back at what we learned from the final weekend of the Liga MX Clausura regular season ...
Ruidiaz saves Monarcas with pure class
That's not entirely accurate. Ruidiaz didn't save Monarcas using only pure class. His teammates put the ball in the right position, he used his speed and awareness in the box to direct his shot past Hugo Gonzalez and score what has to be one of the most significant goals scored in Liga MX on its face. The goal meant Monarcas won. That result meant they stayed in Liga MX when a draw would've sent them down. It also meant they were going to the playoffs as the eighth seed. And it means that Ruidiaz repeats as top goal-scorer.
It's the lowest total ever for a Liga MX top scorer, but the fact is that the Peruvian, signed from Universitario before an excellent showing in the Copa America Centenario, has been absolutely critical for Morelia since he arrived. He scored nearly 40 percent of his team's goals in the Apertura, a number that jumped to 47 percent with other teammates making up for just 10 goals in addition to Ruidiaz's nine.
It's a load he's been happy to shoulder, missing just one match this campaign and returning to score a hat trick in Round 16 and following up with Saturday's winner.
"I'm proud to be part of this group. It's an immense happiness to have achieved the goal," Ruidiaz wrote on Facebook after the match. "This team had more than enough balls and desire. Thanks to everyone who believed in us and who were with us on this difficult path."
Ruidiaz may not end up staying at Monarcas for long, with the rumor mill having him headed to Santos Laguna or Club America in the offseason — or perhaps even leaving the Americas to try and translate his skills to Europe with Rangers or another club. But he'll long be remembered as a hero in Michoacan — and he himself will never forget the night he returned home to cheers of "Ole, ole, ole. Raul! Raul!"
Tigres finding dangerous form
Tigres are a talented team, a deep team and a team that seems to be all too aware of both of those facts. They've become that annoying kid who managed to get an A in the class despite paying no attention to any of the lectures because they correctly believe they can skate by on the exams.
After flirting with disaster all regular season — and indeed failing to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy after falling short in the final — Tigres stormed into the Liguilla with a 5-1 victory over Queretaro that included a hat trick from Andre-Pierre Gignac.
Much like the previous Clausura, the club begins with a short trip but a tough matchup against crosstown rival Monterrey. But unlike that tournament, Tigres are hitting their stride at the right time, coming in on consecutive victories and having won four of the last five. That's a marked improvement from the two wins in the final five ahead of the previous Clausura's playoffs.
Tigres suddenly are playing up to their capabilities. That's bad news for Monterrey and potentially the rest of the league if Tuca Ferretti's men are able to fight their way out of the first round.
Historic Xolos looking for more
Though he knew a victory would secure a historic feat and for Tijuana as the first team ever to win back-to-back tournaments in the short tournament era, coach Miguel Herrera wasn't taking any chances. With the team's Liguilla place safe, and last year's quarterfinal defeat to Leon likely still in the mind, Herrera made a few tweaks to his lineup, playing Hiram Munoz and Carlos Vargas at the back, and pulling Paul Arriola and Joe Corona both early with goal-scorer Luis Chavez coming in for Corona.
"It's all about the hard work and the opportunity the coach has given us," Chavez told reporters after the match. "And you can also say that it's the internal competition that exists in the team whether you're in or not or you contribute when it's your turn. And the results prove that.
The team still was able to get a victory, beating Veracruz 1-0 to make history, but as impressive as the regular seasons have been they ultimately mean very little in a system where the title goes to the team that comes out on top of the playoffs.
Xolos have their attention firmly focused on those series, as they should, but can't take Morelia lightly after the momentum-generating weekend Monarcas had.
Distractions too much for America, Pachuca
Pachuca's 3-2 win over America on Saturday met half of our expectations. The game was a thrilling contest, giving us a classic match between two teams desperate to get into the playoffs. What it didn't produce was a playoff team. Pachuca needed Monracas not to win or to beat America by even more goals. America needed a point.
When we look back at the seasons, we'll remember both teams dealing with distractions. For Pachuca, it was a positive one. While the team has plenty of depth thanks to its rich youth system, it wasn't able to compete week-in, week-out with other top teams in Mexico while also putting all its eggs in the basket of the CONCACAF Champions League. That strategy ultimately paid off with Tuzos lifting the trophy and heading to December's Club World Cup.
There are fewer positives to point to for America. Ricardo La Volpe, who confirmed Sunday he will no longer be the coach at America, was able to give serious minutes to young players but much of that was because of off-field drama in terms of suspensions, like the long one handed to center back Pablo Aguilar, or forced by injuries.
Both institutions will be disappointed, but Pachuca obviously far less than America, which was unable to overcome a poor start and a number of absences to get into the postseason for the 11th consecutive tournament.
Chiapas push comes too late
Chiapas didn't have a great tournament by any stretch of the imagination, but did manage to avoid defeat in four of its last five matches, including Saturday's 1-0 victory over Atlas. Despite the late charge, Jaguares are headed down to the Ascenso because of an inferior goal difference to Veracruz, which also amassed 113 points over the six tournaments Liga MX uses to determine which team gets sent down.
Both club's have been generally bad over the past several tournaments, but Chiapas' late surge (and Veracruz's as well, which won three matches in its last five games) seems to be a testament to consistency — something Jaguares have had far too little of in the past few years.
And the club may again lose consistency with coach Sergio Bueno saying after the match he's not sure he'll continue with the team.
"I don't want to be very dramatic, but it's a very hard blow to take," he said at a news conference after the game. "The players are very hurt. It's hard for the club, for the owners, for the fans and for me personally."
Veracruz has hardly been consistent with its project or its squad in the past few years and will start the new tournaments as the worst-situated top division team. We'll see if the Tiburones Rojos learn from the mistakes made by Chiapas.
Goal of the Week
It may be small consolation, but while the Ruidiaz goal ended up being far more significant and Toluca's Pablo Barrientos also made a strong case Sunday night, we're awarding this week's prize to Christian "El Hobbit" Bermudez and hoping his agent can use it to help him find a new spot in the top division.