U.S. players aim for Mexican title -- Villafana eyes MLS-Liga MX double

By Mike Woitalla

Three of the Liga MX quarterfinalists have U.S. players in their ranks, including Santos’ Jorge Villafana, who’s aiming to become the third player in history to win MLS Cup and a Liga MX title. Tijuana Xolos, with the largest contingent of Americans, enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

Nevada product Herculez Gomez started in the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 2005 MLS Cup win over New England, scored five goals in 12 appearances for Santos Laguna when it lifted the 2012 Clausura title, and last season he played in 23 games for MLS Cup 2016 winner Seattle.

Texan Omar Gonzalez won MLS titles with the L.A. Galaxy in 2011, 2012 and 2014 before moving to Pachuca in 2016 and in his first season helped Los Tuzos win the Clausura title. (Liga MX's split season crowns two champions each year, Apertura and Clausura.) Pachuca failed to reach La Liguilla, the playoffs, this season. But last month Gonzalez won the Concacaf Champions League with the Gophers.

Monterrey (2) vs. Tigres UANL (7)
Wednesday (1st leg) & Saturday (2nd leg)
Toluca (4) vs. Santos Laguna (5)
Wednesday & Saturday
Tijuana (1) vs. Morelia (8)
Thursday & Sunday
Chivas Guadalajara (3) vs. Atlas (6)
Thursday & Sunday
(Seeds in parentheses)

Villafana was born in California, moved to Mexico at age 1, and returned to Anaheim at age 15. His MLS career was launched with Univision the reality TV show “Sueno MLS” at age 17 in 2007. After seven seasons with Chivas USA he moved to the Portland Timbers.

Villafana moved to Santos Laguna after helping the Timbers win MLS Cup 2015 and became a regular starter for Santos in March. He's helped Santos to an eight-game unbeaten streak going into the playoffs. On Wednesday, Santos faces Toluca in the first leg of the quarterfinals.

Jorge Villafana joined Santos Laguna after the 2015 MLS season.

Wednesday’s other playoff clash is Monterrey vs. Tigres, which includes Texan Jose Francisco Torres, who moved south of the border in 2006 at age 16. The 29-year-old Torres has played 17 Liga MX games in 2016-17, but has made only two Clausura appearances. He won league titles with Pachuca in 2007 and with Tigres in 2015 and 2016.

New Mexico product Edgar Castillo has been in Mexico as long as Torres has. Castillo, now with Monterrey, helped Santos win the Clausura 2008 crown, less than two years after he debuted at age 18, and lifted the 2012 Apertura title with Tijuana on a squad that included Californian Joe Corona and Texan Greg Garza, now with Atlanta United.

Corona and fellow Californian Paul Arriola helped Tijuana finish first in this Torneo Clausura, making Xolos the first team to win win consecutive regular-season titles. The third of Tijuana's six Americans who have seen Clausura 2017 playing time is defender Michael Orozco, who debuted in Liga MX in 2006. Orozco, who played on loan for the Philadelphia Union from San Luis in 2010, also played for Puebla and Chiapas before joining Tijuana in 2015.

American champions in Mexico:
2016 Apertura Jose Torres (Tigres)
2016 Clausura
*Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca)
2015 Apertura *Jose Torres (Tigres)
2014 Apertura *Ventura Alvarado (Club America)
2014 Clausura *William Yarbrough (Leon)
2013 Apertura *William Yarbrough (Leon)
2012 Apertura *Joe Corona (Tijuana)
2012 Apertura *Edgar Castillo (Tijuana)
2012 Apertura Greg Garza (Tijuana)
2012 Clausura Herculez Gomez (Santos)
2008 Clausura *Edgar Castillo (Santos)
2007 Clausura Jose Torres (Pachuca)
1995 Dominic Kinnear (Necaxa)
*Played in Gran Final.

Americans in Liga MX (2016-17):
38/0 William Yarbrough (Leon)
31/0 Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca)
28/2 Paul Arriola (Tijuana)
27/1 Jonathan Bornstein (Queretaro)
26/0 Michael Orozco (Tijuana)
19/0 Jorge Villafana (Santos)
17/0 Jose Torres (Tigres)
16/2 Joe Corona (Tijuana)
10/0 Edgar Castillo (Monterrey)
9/0 *Greg Garza (Tijuana)
5/0 Ventura Alvarado (Club America/Santos)
1/0 Diego De la Tejera (Leon)
1/0 *Luis Gil (Queretaro)
0/0 Alejandro Guido (Tijuana)
0/0 Benji Lopez (Santos)
0/0 Amando Moreno (Tijuana)
0/0 Ernest Nungaray (Morelia)
0/0 John Requejo (Tijuana)
0/0 *Luis Silva (Tigres)
0/0 *Brandon Vazquez (Tijuana)
*No longer in Mexico.

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