Padilla’s late goal clinches playoff spot for Chivas

Liga MX M16 2

Kevin Balanta (left) played aggressive defense against América. It cost the Xolos when Balanta picked up a second yellow card in minute 61. The Liga MX leaders went on to win 3-0. (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images)

Liga MX playoff picture a bit less murky

Teenager Yael Padilla scored deep into stoppage time to earn a 1-0 win for Guadalajara over Cruz Azul, clinching a spot in the Liga MX playoffs for the Chivas.

The loss virtually eliminates the Cementeros (they are mathematically alive … but only barely) and they will see their postseason hopes vanish if Mazatlán defeats last-place Necaxa on Sunday.

Elsewhere on Matchday 16, Liga MX leaders América scored for the 27th consecutive game, blanking Tijuana 3-0. The Aguilas have already clinched the No. 1 seed throughout the Liga MX playoffs while the Xolos remain 1 point away from securing a postseason place for the first time in eight seasons.

Second-place Tigres and visiting Atlético de San Luis played to a thrilling 2-2 draw at “El Volcán.” The result all-but guarantees a playoff berth for the Tuneros whose +7 goal differential has them sitting pretty in fifth place for now. Tigres can finish no worse than third.

Chivas forced to wait until late

In minute 90+7, the 17-year-old Padilla collected a pass from Víctor Guzmán in the middle of the box, calmly sidestepped a sliding Cruz Azul defender and powered a shot past André Gudiño for the lone goal of the game.

Gudiño had come up big in the first half, denying the Chivas in minute 35. A long-range Erick Gutiérrez shot took a deflection off Cruz Azul defender Wilmer Ditta and Gudiño had to quickly change direction, lunging back the other way and getting his big right mitt on the ball.

In minute 63, Guadalajara’s Fernando Beltrán clanged a close-range shot off the crossbar and 7 minutes later, Cruz Azul’s leading scorer Ángel Sepúlveda was denied by his namesake when Chivas defender Gilberto Sepúlveda blocked his follow-up shot off the line.

Those were among the few genuine scoring chances created in a match that saw the teams trade headlong end-to-end rushes that left players on both sides exhausted.

Liga MX leaders have record in sights

América momentarily seemed as though its 26-game scoring streak was in jeopardy. Then Tijuana defender Kevin Balanta was shown a second yellow card in minute 61. That opened the floodgates.

In minute 73, Alejandro Zendejas finished off nifty Aguilas passing sequence, running onto a Henry Martín back-heel flick and smacking home a left-footer from just above the penalty spot.

Five minutes later, Jonathan Rodríguez was the recipient of a lovely Kevin Álvarez cross from the right flank. “Cabecita” snuck in at the back post and volleyed home with force to put the Aguilas up 2-0.

América added another when Richard Sánchez ran down a Zendejas through pass into the right channel and threaded a cross into the goal mouth where Álvaro Fidalgo had been left unattended. The Spaniard simply redirected the pass into the roof of the net and it was 3-0 Aguilas.

The 3-0 win lifts “los AzulCremas” to 39 points. With a win next week at Tigres, América would surpass the all-time Liga MX record for points in a 17-game season (41) set by León in the Clausura 2019 campaign.

Northern Giants all tied up

Tigres thought they’d won after Nicolás Ibáñez put the home side up 2-1 in minute 90+1. But Dieter Villalpando had other ideas.

Moments before the final whistle, the Tuneros midfielder let fly from 35 meters and his shot whistled past a helpless Nahuel Guzmán, rocketing off the underside of the crossbar before bounding up into the roof of the net.

The dropped points allowed Monterrey to climb into a second-place tie with their crosstown rivals thanks to a 2-0 win at Pachuca.

Rayados fans were thrilled to welcome back forward Germán Berterame from injury row (knee) and the forwarded rewarded the faithful with a first-half header for a 1-0 lead. Before the half-hour mark, Rogelio Funes Mori doubled Monterrey’s lead, blocking a Pachuca clearance attempt that ricocheted into the net.

Both Nuevo León teams have 29 points and have qualified direct to the quarterfinals but with a game in hand (Wednesday against Santos Laguna) Monterrey has the inside track to the No. 2 seed.

Sunday’s Liga MX calendar

Atlas (16 points) and Querétaro (15) must win Sunday to play meaningful games next weekend.

The Zorros visit the seventh-place Pumas (22 points) while the Gallos Blancos travel to the border to take on FC Juárez (18 points).

The host Bravos would remain in the running for a playoff spot with a draw, but are desperate need of a win to halt their late-season fade which has featured six losses in their past seven games.

Elsewhere, eighth-place Toluca (21 points) can punch their playoff ticket with a win at Santos Laguna. The Guerreros (17 points) must win to maintain any hopes of qualifying for the Play-In tournament.