Can Liga MX sides advance in Copa Libertadores?
Copa Libertadores continues to torment Mexican teams. It is the elusive prize just beyond reach. Tigres UANL found that harsh truth out the hard way with that painful second-leg defeat to River Plate in the final last summer. Most teams inevitably struggle with the additional fixtures and the rigorous travel obligations well before that point.
Puebla rather unfortunately drew Argentine side Racing in the first stage and exited with a 3-2 aggregate defeat in a two-legged playoff. Toluca landed in perhaps the most difficult second stage group with Grêmio, LDU Quito and San Lorenzo forming the rest of Group 6. Pumas UNAM — slated to kick off their campaign against Ecuadorian side Emelec on Thursday (live, 10 p.m. ET, FOX Deportes, FOX Soccer 2Go) — received a modest break in Group 7, but the Apertura runners-up still face significant hurdles to reach the Round of 16.
Those realities left the remaining two Liga MX sides with a lot of work to do when the second stage started this week. Toluca provided an immediate boost to the efforts by securing a 2-0 victory over Grêmio at La Bombonera on Wednesday.
Enrique Triverio claimed the match ball by scoring both goals for the 10-man hosts. Triverio drifted free at the back post and nodded Gerardo Rodriguez’s cross past Marcelo Grohe to open the scoring shortly after halftime. He secured the precious second — and the points — by procuring a penalty kick and then smashing it home in the final quarter of an hour.
The result offered Toluca an ideal and necessary platform in the quest to emerge from Group 6. The formula — rely on the significant home advantage in the altitude at Estadio Nemesio Diez and snatch points on the road when possible — is fairly straightforward, even for a side off to a modest start in the Clausura. This performance — particularly in light of Moises Velasco’s red card eight minutes before the interval — supplies some hope that the Red Devils might just manage the feat.
If one of the two Liga MX representatives can reach the knockout stage, then it would constitute a job well done in this edition of the tournament.
Pumas UNAM and Toluca aren’t genuine contenders to give Mexico its first title in this competition. Pumas concede far, far too much possession (41 percent average possession share during the Apertura, according to Opta statstics) and heap too much pressure on an admittedly stout defense to survive against South American sides. Toluca lack the necessary creativity and rely too much on Triverio (four of the seven Toluca goals in Liga MX) to cope in such a rigorous tournament.
Even though the chances of staging a deep run in this tournament are relatively small given the Mexican representatives, the difficulty of the draw and the strength of the field itself, but all hope is not lost. The result in Toluca on Wednesday night at least provides some encouragment for a modest measure of success as the tournament unfolds.