A quick look at the Liga MX table would tell one very obvious story: both Pumas and Toluca are not having very good seasons. They currently sit in 12th and 13th place – both out of the liguilla. For Pumas, a stark contrast to their last campaign, where they finished the regular season at the top of the table. Toluca, easily one of the most consistent teams since Liga MX halved their calendar, is also in a zone they are not particularly used to either. On the outside looking in. Normally, sluggish results like that would not just raise pundits’ eyebrows, they would also sow seeds for a fan revolt, and have coaches’ termination papers filled out. In triplicate.
But, when we roll in what they have been able to accomplish in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, this season has been an unqualified success… so far.
Ever since the Mexican clubs had been invited to participate in the Libertadores, the dilemma always seems to come up. Which tournament should a team favor, if it turns out that another has to suffer. Some teams decide to play for the local league. Club America did that in the 2000’s when they had a liguilla and a knockout game in the same week. Other clubs, like Monterrey, never took the tournament all that seriously at all, fielding mostly a reserve side the last time they participated. They played their 6 games and they were done, thank you very much.
It has always been a point of contention. If the FMF spent so much political capital to be included in the Libertadores, why would a club waste the opportunity? The last time Pumas played the Libertadores, it was a disaster. They only managed to muster up 1 draw in 6 games. The dark cloud that was hanging over Pumas at the time traveled south with them to South America, as Pumas was in the midst of one its worst slumps since being promoted to the 1st division. It would be 10 years before they would get another chance to prove their mettle in the Libertadores. On the other hand, Toluca did make an appearance in the 2013 tournament, their second, but it did not last past the group stage.
Toluca, like Pumas has dabbled in the Libertadores without much success. The deepest run they had made was the round of 16. Toluca, like Pumas, is looking finds itself in 1st place in their current group with 2 games left two play. Toluca, like Pumas has clinched a spot in the knockouts while Pumas has all but clinched their group, only a wild 8-goal swing would land them in 2nd place. Winning the group in the Libertadores is extremely important.
Pumas put themsleves in great position to win the group after thumping Olimpia 4-1 last night in CU
Toluca clinched their knockouts spot by winning on the road in Ecuador
The round of 16 fxitures are determined by how well the side did in the group stage. The 1st place teams are seeded 1-8 and guaranteed a home second leg. 2nd place teams are seeded 9-16. The match-ups are then set. Highest vs lowest. If Pumas were to win their last match in Emelec, it would all but assure them of a top 4 seed in the round of 16. Toluca, with 10 points, can also make a move toward the top of the seedings with favorable results in the next two weeks.
Needless to say, both teams have a lot to play for, so they should dedicate their resources accordingly. If it means that they miss out on the C16 Liguilla, so be it. They can muster up another local campaign in 3 months. Who knows when they will get another shot at the Libertadores. It should always be their main focus.
Isn’t that why the FMF fought to get their clubs involved in the first place?
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