The semifinals of the Liga MX 2023 Clausura season are now officially over and the final is set! Tigres and Chivas are the two teams in the running for the Liga MX title. After the latest batch of playoff games, here are a couple of talking points and some thoughts ahead of the two-legged final, which starts on Thursday.
Paunovic steers Chivas to final in debut season as manager
When former Chicago Fire and Reading manager Veljko Paunovic was hired by Chivas late last October, he was blunt about the state of the lifeless Liga MX giants.
"The first diagnosis is that there is a lack of confidence, a lack of conviction and a lack of courage," said the Serbian coach about the side that finished ninth in the 2022 Apertura regular season. "I believe that you can't play with fear, you have to have tremendous courage."
Seven months later in his first Liga MX tournament in charge, No. 3 Chivas have now officially qualified for the final. Thanks to a 3-2 aggregate result secured through three goals against No. 2 seed and rivals Club America in Sunday's second semifinal leg, Los Rojiblancos are back in a league championship series for just the second time in the last 15 years. Should Chivas win this season's final, they would also equal Club America's record of 13 league titles.
Not bad for Paunovic's first season in charge.
"Today it wasn't tactics," Paunovic said after Sunday's 3-1 win. "It was heart."
That heart, and some blunders from their opposition, helped Los Rojiblancos get over the line in their latest playoff game. Now, a possible 13th title awaits Chivas in this week's two-legged final series against Tigres.
Ortiz resigns as Club America manager after missing out on final
Club America, who initially had a 1-0 scoreline in their favor after the first semifinal leg, were caught making a handful of costly errors on Sunday that gifted Chivas a place into the championship series. Las Aguilas were poor in transition during a first-half goal from Ronaldo Cisneros, they went down to 10 men after an unnecessary challenge and ensuing red from Alvaro Fidalgo in the 64th minute, and then looked disorganized as they watched Chivas score an additional two goals in the second half.
By the time Jesus Orozco found the back of the net in the 88th minute, thereby putting Chivas up 3-2 on aggregate, the semifinal series was all but over.
🔴🔵⚽️ ¡Goool de @Chivas!— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) May 22, 2023
🔴🔵⚽️ ¡Goool de @Chivas!
🔴🔵⚽️ ¡Goool de @Chivas!
¡Remontada! 😍 ¡Remontada! 😍 ¡Remontada! 😍 Gol de Chiquete Orozco
🔴 EN VIVO por @Univision, TUDN, https://t.co/OmeLOvzglE y app
📲🇺🇸👉 https://t.co/SNdBYosOJm #LiguillaEnTUDN pic.twitter.com/Qj7jP4Q8cG
"We never stopped believing, even so in adversity," said Orozco after Sunday's match.
With a three-man defense that resolved many of the mistakes from the first semifinal leg, Paunovic was clever with his game plan over the weekend -- it stifled Club America striker Henry Martin, holding the opposition to just two shots on target.
On Club America's end, manager Fernando Ortiz has a very different experience than Paunovic in the Clausura semifinal. Ortiz failed to do much to halt Paunovic's approach, and after the red card for Fidalgo, there was no getting back on track for Club America.
Once it was over, Ortiz announced his resignation during the post-game press conference.
Playoff MVP Cordova helps carry Tigres to a Clasico Regio victory over Monterrey
Despite rotating through three different managers since February and closing out the regular season with one win in a seven-game run, Tigres are now finalists in this season's playoffs. With new head coach Robert Dante Siboldi leading from the sideline since April, the No. 7 seed moved one step closer to an unexpected championship through a 2-1 aggregate victory over crosstown rivals and No.1 seed Monterrey in last week's semifinal round.
"A month and a half ago, what can I tell you... being able to experience this situation, this moment, I wouldn't have imagined this, never," said Siboldi after Saturday's 1-0 away victory that pushed them up to 2-1 on aggregate.
While Liga MX's 2017-18 Manager of the Season should be applauded for his 4-2-3-1 system (3-5-2 on Saturday) that has reinforced the defense, Siboldi and the entire Tigres fanbase should feel grateful for a May revival of the MVP of playoffs so far: Midfielder Sebastian Cordova.
¡GOL DE TIGRES! 🔥 GOL DE CÓRDOVA. En jugadas casi consecutivas, anulan el gol a #Rayados y #Tigres hace una anotación gigante. 🔥⚽️— FOX Deportes (@FOXDeportes) May 21, 2023
Sigue la #FOXLigaMX junto a @pulpozuniga, @marianot19, @SirJohnLaguna y @alejadelgadillo. 📺 pic.twitter.com/ZeDK30QTLI
After finding the back of the net once during the regular season, the 25-year-old has stepped up with five goals in just as many Clausura playoff games, which includes Saturday's game-winner against Monterrey. Much more than just a goalscorer, the midfielder has been highly impressive with his attacking presence and distribution in the final third.
"It's my job, I knew I had to do it well," said Cordova matter-of-factly after the win. "I'll always give my all to the jersey."
Is Tigres' aging core of stars ready to step up?
Sebastian Cordova certainly stepped up for Tigres and left it all on the field, but could the same be said by most of Tigres' talent-heavy roster? As chaotic as things have been for the team that has gone through a handful of coaching changes in a short period of time, much more has been expected of key figures like Nico "Diente" Lopez, Nahuel Guzman and even leading goal-scorer and star striker Andre-Pierre Gignac.
Tigres have a deep and experienced squad, but an aging one as well. Weeks before being fired late last year, former head coach Miguel "Piojo" Herrera gained headlines for stating that there needs to be a "generational change for the team that has won everything, but gotten old."
Tigres have made some progress with some additional new faces in 2023, but a strong core of veterans remains that didn't exactly sprint to the final, but more so stumbled their way to it after an unexciting regular season. However, there's also something to be said about an experience-heavy squad that can qualify for the final, even when they aren't at their best.
With Siboldi as their new leader and a chance to win more silverware on the line, it wouldn't be a shock for Tigres to suddenly look like the dynasty team that won five titles from 2011 to 2019. Especially when you have Cordova, who has easily been the standout player of the Clausura playoffs.