The Mexican clausura liguilla kicks off Wednesday night, and this year's edition has quite the strong American tie to it.
Each of the four quarterfinal matchups contains at least one team with an American presence, headlined by top-seeded Santos Laguna and in-form striker Herculez Gomez. High-powered Santos are on a quest to make sure they do not end their season empty-handed after dropping the CONCACAF Champions League final to Monterrey and losing the Apertura liguilla final to Tigres UANL.
That is just one of the storylines entering the top-flight playoffs in Mexico. Here's a closer look at the quarterfinal matchups and the American ties to each one:
SANTOS LAGUNA vs. JAGUARES
Americans involved: Herculez Gomez (Santos), Adrian Ruelas (Jaguares)
First Leg: Thursday, 8 p.m., Azteca America
Gomez had a standout season for Santos, which finished in first in the regular season. Gomez scored five goals in league play in addition to his six in CONCACAF Champions League play, and for Santos, the liguilla presents a chance to finish the season on a high note after losing the CCL final in heartbreaking fashion to Monterrey.
Ruelas, a former U.S. U-20 forward, is on loan to Jaguares from Santos Laguna, but has rarely played for the club, making just one appearance this season.
MONTERREY vs. TIJUANA
Americans involved: Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Greg Garza (Tijuana)
First Leg: Wednesday, 11:30 p.m., Azteca America
Each member of the Tijuana Trio has become a regular on the matchday roster for the club that drew the two-time defending CONCACAF Champions League winners in the opening round. Los Rayados' multi-faceted attack will surely put Edgar Castillo, who has locked down his place in the starting lineup, to the test. Should Castillo hold his own, he could merit yet another look from Jurgen Klinsmann, whose options at left back are growing with Eric Lichaj, Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson all showing their ability to perform at the position.
AMERICA vs. PACHUCA
Americans involved: Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca)
First Leg: Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., Telefutura
Torres quietly put together a solid season for Pachuca, and a strong postseason showing could fortify his place on Klinsmann's roster for the U.S. training camp he'll hold in a couple of weeks ahead of the five upcoming national team matches. While his passing and attacking qualities are vital to Pachuca's movement, Torres' biggest contribution may come on the defensive end, where he'll have to deal with Mexican attacker Christian Bermudez and a team that posted the third-most goals in the league behind Santos Laguna and Monterrey.
MORELIA vs. TIGRES UANL
Americans involved: Jonathan Bornstein, Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Tigres)
First Leg: Thursday, 10 p.m., Univision Deportes
OK, so Bornstein has barely played for Tigres since joining the club, and his only appearances this season came in Copa Libertadores play. For Ocegueda, a Mexican-American U-20 left back, seeing the field or the matchday roster is also a rarity. Even so, their club was neck-and-neck with Santos until being on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline to the top seed and could be the lower-seeded side that makes a run at the domestic crown, which would be their second of the season after capturing the Apertura title.
Who do you see winning the liguilla? Do you have more of an interest considering which U.S. players are involved? Which U.S. player do you think has the most to gain by a strong postseason showing?
Share your thoughts below.