The 12th round of Liga MX has come and gone, and we saw a wide range of events happening. Top teams showed weaknesses while some of those we'd left for dead showed they're definitely among the living. We're headed into the international break with what looks like another thrilling race to the finish ahead of us. The playoff picture is as crowded as ever, but there are definitely favorites in the form of Monterrey and Club America. As we've learned to expect, though, there's no guarantee one of those teams will lift the trophy or even be in the final.
Let's take one more lingering glance back at Jornada 12 before we turn our heads to what we hope is an exciting stretch run:
America sitting pretty after tough stretch
By the time Toluca realized what was happening Saturday, Club America already was well on its way to a 2-1 victory over the team that sat just below it in the table. Silvio Romero scored an excellent opener and despite Guido Rodriguez being sent off after just 25 minutes, Las Aguilas were able to close ranks and get three points.
Toluca coach Hernan Cristante didn't feel his team was ready to play. "We lacked the ability to resolve the situations we were in and, well, for me we weren't up to the heights of the match. We found a team that was very methodical, fighting for every ball, and for us there was nothing," the Toluca boss said after the match. "That's the reality. I don't think we underestimated them, but I think we didn't think America was going to play like it was a final and we weren't at that level."
The blunt evaluation is spot on. America was lethal in transition early and then had a lead to protect when Rodriguez was given the red card. It's hardly the first match America has had to play with intensity lately. The team is coming off tough trips to Leon and Tijuana but managed to drop only one result during that spell. Now the team will be able to enjoy several home matches and looks like it will easily secure one of the top four spots and hold the advantage in any Liguilla series it plays.
There's still a game against first-placed Monterrey to be played plus the Clasico Nacional - though how tough that will be depends on whether or not Chivas can get their act together. So far the Guadalajara side hasn't, and Miguel Herrera will be preparing his master plan to win another title with the Azulcremas once more.
Monterrey can be slowed, if not stopped
We said prior to the contest that Monterrey's trip to Queretaro could be a trap game, and it turned out to be just that. Monterrey ended up with a strange draw as Gallos Blancos converted a late penalty to equalize a match they could've won. The home side had more of the ball and put more shots on target than Monterrey. It's nothing new for the leader to make the most out of only a few opportunities, but this game served to show there could be issues for Rayados ahead.
It's been a leisurely start so far, but more teams will look at what Antonio Mohamed has done and attempt to disrupt the team's tricky forward movement and take advantage of sometimes suspect passing. There's no reason for panic though. Monterrey is good at what it does and will make the Liguilla with ease. But things aren't going to be a total cakewalk either, especially with clubs like Queretaro taking their best shot at the No. 1 side. Mohamed doesn't seem worried.
"I'm sticking with the positive, the intensity of the second half," he said after the game. "The team is responding, but I don't like the result. It's always bitter when we draw."
After the international break, Rayados will have five matches in 14 days between the league and the cup. Other teams also will have busy schedules, but it's on Monterrey to make sure their previously undeterred momentum can continue after the break and the superlider spot can be secured.
Atlas making progress in push to avoid relegation
Lost amid the obvious in Atlas' victory over Veracruz – both teams being direct rivals for relegation with the Zorros' 2-0 victory pushing them off the bottom of the table that determines which team goes down – was something just as important. The clean sheet was the first time in eight matches Atlas was able to keep its opposition from scoring.
It's Atlas' second consecutive win, and despite Veracruz, Queretaro and Puebla all slipping into malaises, winning streaks are exactly what Atlas could use to put the thought of the drop out of mind. Sure, teams better than Veracruz and Puebla await for Atlas and other teams will put a body on Milton Caraglio in the box instead of allowing him to knock in two goals from close range.
"It takes the pressure off me," the forward said of his double. "We won, we had a spectacular week. You always work for that, but sometimes when you're in a negative streak it doesn't come for you."
The team sorting things out at the back is the biggest positive to come from the weekend for "Profe" Cruz's squad with outside backs Luis Reyes and Jose Maduena keeping the Tiburones Rojos wide players from getting involved.
Could things get even better? Rafa Marquez's legal team continues to hint the player may be able to use all of his bank accounts and perhaps even return to work soon. His legal situation with the U.S. Department of Treasury could've presented an opportunity for someone else to step up and replace the 38-year-old in the lineup. At this point, though, the moral boost alone would be worth it for Atlas, to say nothing for the security he'd provide at the back.
Time to talk about Leon's potential?
It's all about Mauro Boselli and Elias Hernandez for Leon. Javier Torrente's departure as coach apparently liberated the attackers and they've been on a roll ever since. Boselli sandwiched a goal between two from Hernandez in a 3-0 romp over Lobos BUAP that marked the fourth consecutive victory for the club, and has it sitting in fourth position in the table. That fate would've been unthinkable after the team started winless in its first three and took just four points from its first five matches.
Now, Leon suddenly seems like a team bound for postseason play and maybe capable of more. Boselli, whose nine goals lead the league, always looks capable of finding the back of the net and Hernandez popped up on both the right and left wing to cause issues for Lobos with his dribbling and crossing. Luis Montes was able to find both those players with ease, picking apart the Lobos back line.
The questions have been at the back for several tournaments – and there the questions will remain about Leon. Sure, they kept a clean sheet against Lobos but they've had trouble keeping clean sheets in previous matches. Do they have the personnel to stop better teams? If not, is the attack good enough to overcome the team's defensive shortcomings?
Lobos BUAP have struggled at home and the win over Chivas during the week may be fool's gold for a team that somehow is rolling down the road but looks like it will lose a wheel or at least get a flat tire at any moment. Was missing two penalties in the span of a minute the moment where it all takes a turn for the worst? It's tough to say. We may look back at this game as a show of Leon's power, but it also could be an indication of Lobos' decline in its first tournament in the top division.
Ruidiaz may finally get help
Too often last season Morelia was Raul Ruidiaz and 10 other guys. Maybe that's unfair to the goalkeeper, but when offers reportedly came in for the Peruvian goalscorer this summer, the fact that Morelia fought hard to keep him wasn't stunning. Who would score if he was gone? He'd accounted for nine of the team's 19 goals in the Clausura. On the last day of the season, it was Ruidiaz with the amazing goal to not only get Monarcas into the playoff position but also save them from relegation.
Monarcas are in the playoff positions after starting the weekend with a 3-0 thumping of Club Tijuana. It was heavily aided by Xolos losing Emanuel Aguilera to a second yellow card after just 16 minutes. But instead of Ruidiaz having to score the goals, the No. 10 Diego Valdes stepped up with a pair of goals of his own.
Valdes also set up Rodolfo Vilchis for the middle goal of the triumph, and while Ruidiaz may be frustrated he didn't get in on the scoring fun, he may quietly be pleased that he could have less weight on his shoulders to carry the team into the Liguilla.
Goal of the Week
The effort he makes to stay with this play and the little loop at the end earn the honors for Martin Rodriguez this week, who had two goals in Cruz Azul's 4-0 dismantling of Pumas.