By DAN KARELL
If the opening round of the Liga MX Apertura playoffs is a sign of things to come, this could be the most exciting path to the title in recent history.
Between the eight teams in the Liguilla quarterfinals, 30 goals were scored in the opening phase as Toluca, Club Leon, Club America, and Santos Laguna all moved on to the Apertura semifinals which begin on Friday.
Leon had the biggest margin of victory with a 7-3 aggregate score line against Morelia, while Santos’ Darwin Quintero scored four of his team’s six goals against Queretaro, who made an impressive run into the playoffs this season.
Here is a closer look at the Apertura Liguilla quarterfinals:
TOLUCA TAKES OUT CRUZ AZUL
Cruz Azul’s hopes to make a second consecutive playoffs final were dashed last Saturday evening.
Following Toluca’s 3-0 first-leg victory, Cruz Azul were unable to make a comeback as they drew 1-1 in the second leg at home, finishing the match with ten men after Jair Pereira was shown a straight red card in stoppage time.
Paraguayan forward Pablo Velasquez scored twice in the series to take his season total to 14 goals for Toluca and he canceled out the first half penalty kick goal from Cruz Azul’s Christian “Chaco” Benitez with a goal in the 78th minute. 37-year-old Toluca midfield Sinha, who was recalled to the Mexican National Team two weeks ago for their World Cup qualifiers against New Zealand, played 71 minutes on Saturday night.
CLUB LEON TROUNCES MORELIA
After a thrilling 3-3 draw in the first leg, Club Leon never looked back as their trio of Mexican internationals re-adjusted to their time zone and old routine.
Leon’s foreigners in any case stole the show in the second leg at home as they routed Morelia, 4-0, on Saturday evening. Hernan Burbano opened the scoring in the 28th minute before three second half goals from Mauro Boselli, Matias Britos, and a screamer by Jose Juan Vasquez put the game away.
Britos finished with two goals in the series as Leon’s stifling defense kept Jefferson Montero and Hector Mancilla off the score sheet and away from goal in most situations.
AMERICA SURVIVE ON AWAY GOALS
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Club America and Mexico National Team head coach Miguel Herrera can breathe a sigh of relief as Las Aguilas are in the Apertura semifinals.
In a tightly contested affair on Sunday at Estadio Azteca, America held on to draw 1-1 with Tigres UANL, knocking out the Nueva Leon club from the playoffs on away goals with an aggregate scoreline of 3-3. Raul Jimenez, who seems to score almost all of his goals at the Azteca, sent a diving header in the 52nd into the far side netting to put America up a goal.
Tigres’ chances took a major hit after Hugo Ayala was shown a second yellow card in the 55th for a rash challenge, but youngster Alan Pulido stepped up in a big moment to tie the score three minutes later. Try as they might, the ten-man Tigres side just ran out of time as an exciting and end-to-end match finished in America’s favor.
SANTOS LAGUNA THRASH QUERETARO BEHIND QUINTERO BRACE
Liga MX has been put on notice, as Darwin Quintero is hitting his best form of the season.
In the two legs, Quintero scored four times to take his goal total to seven on the year as Santos Laguna thrashed Queretaro, 7-3, in the aggregate scoreline. On Sunday evening, Santos triumphed, 3-1, as Quintero combined with Oribe Peralta to terrify the Queretaro defense. The Colombian Quintero scored on a deft chip over Queretaro goalkeeper Edgar Hernandez before finishing his second at the far post. Both goals came in the second half on Sunday evening.
Isaac Romo kept Queretaro’s hopes alive with three goals in the series but the impressive attack of Santos was enough to ensure them a place in the semifinals.
Here’s a look at the entire list of matches from the second leg of the Apertura playoffs quarterfinal round in Liga MX:
Cruz Azul 1, Toluca 1
Club Leon 4, Morelia 0
Club America 1, Tigres UANL 1
Santos Laguna 3, Queretaro 1