Obscured and ignored before ascending to great heights, the story is as old as time. The little one rises up against the odds and assumes a place among the elite.
In sports, we love the Cinderella story. It’s like pulling for the underdog, but so much more. To be a true Cinderella, it must be one that truly has no reason to aspire to greatness. Their victory should seem preposterous.
The Cinderella is one of the things that makes March Madness so mad (along with all the gambling). Watching Vermont, Princeton, or Wichita not only compete with but take down the big boys makes for a compelling product. It’s just plain fun.
Cinderella stories are harder to come by in professional sports. The disparity which can exist in amateur sports is harder to find among teams of the finest athletes. They do occasionally happen. The worst to first narrative can spring up every now and then. The small market team that takes down the big city giants most unexpectedly.
There won’t be anything close to a Cinderella in this season’s Liguilla. There won’t even be any true underdogs. The semifinals are now set, and the four remaining are giants.
Prior to the season, two teams stood out as prohibitive favorites to take the title. The two front runners, clad in yellow like this was a Tour de France stage, and nearly everyone’s picks for the title were Tigres and America. While each is now where they were expected to be, neither team sailed smoothly to this point. America’s season was inconsistent from the very beginning. The rocky start under new manager Ignacio Ambriz left many wondering if he would even make it to the end of the season. The ship was righted, though. Club America started to exert their dominance on the league. There were some occasional hiccups, like losses to Atlas, Monterrey, and in the Super Clasico, but America were able to persevere. They entered the Liguilla not as a top seed but with all the expectation of one.
The same could be said for Tigres. Not many expected something less than a top of the table finish for Tuca’s team. Surely the years of experience and possessing unparalleled job security in Mexican soccer provide Tuca Ferretti with the knowledge that Liguilla seeding is irrelevant. With the focus of the early season being the Copa Libertadores, Tigres wasn’t able to maximize its league points. It didn’t matter. This talent-soaked roster now leads this team to semifinals with expectations being another final.
Our other two semifinalists were not the preseason picks. They were not the loaded rosters who couldn’t lose. They are, however, the two most dominant teams through this entire regular season. With 37 and 33 goals respectively, Pumas and Toluca lead the league in scoring. Their defense hasn’t been too shabby either. Both have kept scoring down from the opposition and have shown the ability to stifle competition in close games.
The Liguilla semifinals kick off on Thursday night with two great match-ups. There are no Cinderellas left. There will be no ‘little team that could’. Yet, what we may have given up in narrative we should gain even more back in quality. These are clearly the four best teams in the league at the moment. It’s truly anyone’s title. Watching how it will play out will be captivating.