Liga MX finals: America-Tigres players, storylines, more

Liga MX finals: America-Tigres players, storylines, more
Liga MX finals: America-Tigres players, storylines, more

In what is turning into a modern rivalry in Mexican soccer, Club America vs. Tigres is now set for the 2023 Apertura final!

Kicking off with a first leg in Monterrey on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET and a second leg in Mexico City on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET, this week’s battle will pit the country’s most successful team in history (Club America) against the most successful team of the last decade (Tigres).

Ahead of the two matches that’ll determine the winners of the Apertura tournament, here’s everything you need to know about the finalists.

– Final Liga MX standings | Liga MX coverage on ESPN Deportes – Futbol Americas on ESPN+: MLS, Liga MX, USMNT, El Tri

CLUB AMERICA (Regular season: 1st place, 12W-4D-3L)

How they got here

Despite immediately dealing with injury problems that altered countless XIs in his first season as manager, and a discouraging round of 16 exit in the Leagues Cup in August, new Club America coach Andre Jardine was able to help carry the Mexico City giants to not only a spot at first in the regular season, but also this week’s league final.

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Initially needing time to fine-tune things, Jardine eventually molded his side into the best attack and defense in the Mexican top flight. Charging into the postseason with a 16-game undefeated run in Liga MX play, Las Aguilas then surpassed León 4-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinal round and Atletico San Luis 5-2 in the semis.

That said, their undefeated streak officially ended at 19 games on Saturday after losing 2-0 in the second semifinal leg. Whether the result is simply a flash in the pan after going up 5-0 in the first leg, or a sign of things to come, remains to be seen.

Strengths/weaknesses

Discussing and analyzing all of their strengths could fill the entirety of this article. Club America put up the best attacking and defending numbers in Liga MX, they closed out games in impressive fashion with 13 goals scored after the 75th minute, they collected the best xG tally in the Apertura regular season, and most importantly, they were able to rely on a long list of game-changers like Jonathan dos Santos, Diego Valdes, Álvaro Fidalgo, Julian Quiñones, Henry Martín and Sebastian Caceres.

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Tending to hold plenty of the ball and create danger with line-breaking through balls, Club America’s deep roster will be a handful for Tigres. But they’re not perfect either.

There are question marks about the strength of their fullbacks, and as seen through some of the more difficult playoff moments against Leon and Atletico San Luis, Jardine and his players can struggle when teams are willing to be proactive and go toe-to-toe with them.

Striker Henry Martin will look to be the key star for Club America to win the Liga MX Apertura. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)

Who is their MVP?

As noted earlier, there is no lack of game-changers for Club America. Quiñones is brilliant with his chance-creation and goals, Valdes is their invaluable No.10 who is a leader in the final third, Caceres has been highly important in the backline, Dos Santos is an unsung hero with his impact in the heart of the XI, and Fidalgo has been influential with his distribution and runs forward.

But if we have to focus on just one figure, that has to be Martin. His goals alone (four in just as many playoff games this season) are worthy of making him an MVP candidate, but the striker also does an immense amount of work through his connection to the rest of the frontline and defensive support with interceptions.

If there’s one Club America player who is capable of providing a clutch moment this week that could help secure a championship, more than likely, it’ll be Martin.

What a title would mean for the club

Brashly claiming to be the best in the history of Mexican soccer, extending Club America’s league-leading tally of Liga MX championships to 14 would be a confirmation of their unmatched and untouched status in the country. Although they last clinched a league title just a few years back in 2018, that short period has also felt like an eternity for what is arguably the most popular club team in Mexico and possibly North America.

That other club that could make the same claim regarding popularity? That would be long-time rivals Chivas, who have 12 titles. If Club America were able to gain another championship, a potential 14th piece of silverware would then give them a more comfortable lead over their footballing nemeses that would then be two behind.

TIGRES (Regular season: 3rd place, 8W-6D-3L)

How they got here

In true Tigres fashion, the current title-holders had some inconsistencies that then developed into a strong finish. After shaking off their championship hangover from last season, Tigres have earned just one defeat in their last 14 games in all competitions, which includes a Campeones Cup title over MLS’ LAFC in September.

Coupled with a lethal mixture of well-respected veterans and up-and-coming prospects, as well as a raucous home atmosphere at their Estadio Universitario home ground, Tigres began their playoff run with a 5-2 aggregate win over Puebla in the quarterfinal stage and a 2-1 aggregate victory against Pumas in the semis.

Even with marquee striker Andre-Pierre Gignac being available for only one start in their four playoff games due to injury, that didn’t slow down the champions that were able to score five goals without him. With a few days to rest before Thursday, Tigres manager Robert Dante Siboldi should be able to count on the former French international for the two-legged final.

Strengths/weaknesses

Few rosters in North America have bench players that would be genuine superstars for most other teams in the region. Tigres have depth, and when things aren’t going well, they have the benefit of a multitude of highly talented solutions that can emerge from the sideline. More often than not, there’s also little that needs to be fixed in Siboldi’s style that has been able to create a wealth of dangerous crosses and passes in the final third.

With Gignac as the target man up top, there’s a thrilling amount of agile and clever movement behind him from players like Diego Lainez, Sebastian Cordova, Raymundo Fulgencio, Jonathan Ozziel Herrera, and Marcelo Flores. In net as goalkeeper and occasional captain, they also have the ultimate x-factor of an eccentric figure such as Nahuel Guzman.

And yet, Tigres can literally be thrown off. They can sometimes struggle with their duels – especially in the air as seen in their latest match vs. Pumas – and those long list of crosses don’t always tend to be the most accurate.

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A legend at Tigres, Andre-Pierre Gignac will look to make history yet again with the club by winning another title in Mexico. (Photo by JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Who is their MVP?

Who else but Gignac? A current living legend for the club, Tigres’ all-time top goalscorer is one of the main reasons why the Nuevo Leon side have become a powerhouse since his 2015 arrival.

No matter the fact that he’s now 38 and showing a serious lack of pace, that hasn’t done much to stop his power and decision-making in front of the net. Like most of his other veteran teammates, there’s also a certain poise and confidence about Gignac in big-game moments.

When Tigres won their title last season, Gignac was there scoring in the second leg of the final. Before that in their 2019 championship, there was Gignac once again with the lone goal of the final series. Even though this season was far from perfect for the French striker and his club, the same could be said when he helped lead them to their two most recent Liga MX trophies.

What a title would mean for the club

Back-to-back titles would once again highlight that the new epicenter of men’s and women’s soccer in Mexico is controlled further up north in the city of Monterrey, instead of its more traditional home that’s located near the center of the country. Weeks after Tigres claimed the Liga MX Femenil title in November – extending their league record of championships to six – Tigres’ men’s side could also continue to cement their status as the most dominant Mexican men’s team of the 21st century.

And while a ninth title for the men’s team is still behind the all-time tally of Club America (13), Chivas (12) and Toluca (10), there’s no doubt that they are the ones that are gaining the most ground and growth in recent years.

If Tigres’ last title meant that they could now consider themselves an equipo grande (big team) in Mexico, another would then be a statement that they could soon surpass them

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