How Club Leon, Club America Reached the Liguilla Finals

With the Mexican league playoff finals set to kick off tonight, here's a look at how the two teams made it
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, December 12, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

The 8 teams that participated in the Apertura 2013 Liguilla, ranked highest to lowest, are: Club América, Santos Laguna, León, Cruz Azul, Toluca, Monarcas Morelia, Querétaro, Tigres UANL.

América has been the favorite for the title since the early rounds of the season but León's stand-out players only seem to be improving with each game.

Quarterfinals

In the quarterfinal round, Santos Laguna easily beat Querétaro 6-3 on aggregate while both León and Toluca rode big shutout home wins to advance past Morelia (7-3) and Cruz Azul (4-1), respectively.

Defending champion and the backbone of the recently triumphant Mexican national team, Club América appeared to struggle as the Águilas failed to register a win against Tigres but still advanced (on account of holding a better regular season record) following a 2-2 draw in Monterrey and a 1-1 draw in the Azteca.

Semifinals – Partidos de ida (first legs)

Toluca vs. América – Estadio Nemesio Díez

As the lowest seed of the remaining 4 teams, Toluca had the task of facing off against América in the semifinal round. The match played at Estadio Nemesio Díez on Thursday, Dec. 5 was truly a game of 2 halves. América's attack minded lineup pushed hard early on and found the breakthrough goal in the first half. In the second period, Toluca pressed back and not only found an equalizer in front of the home fans but managed the go-ahead goal before fulltime.

Just after the half-hour mark, Rubens Sambueza flicked the ball into the path of Paul Aguilar (nutmegging defender Fausto Pinto in the process) in the right-hand corner, and the wingback sent a low cross into the 6-yard box. Rey ghosted into the no-man's-land between the centerbacks and goalkeeper to get on the end of the pass. With tremendous pluck, Rey executed a backheel shot to the far post that left goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera helpless.

Rey's clever strike is the goal of the playoffs for me and showcased América's signature swagger this season that had largely been missing since Miguel Herrera took over with the national team, but Rey's goal showed a glimpse of that ability.

In the second half, American-born Mexican international Isaác Brizuela curled a left-footed shot from outside the box past a diving Munoz in the 50th minute. And just 5 minutes later, Édgar Benítez gave Toluca the lead with well-struck effort across the face of goal.

León vs. Santos Laguna - Estadio León

Santos Laguna and Club León have both been solid teams with standout players all season. As such, they were the only other clubs to be represented in the starting line-up for the Mexican national team in the Intercontinental playoff series against New Zealand.

At home in the Nou Camp, an affectionate name for Estadio León, Club León ran the table on the visitors from the opening whistle; amassing 3 times as many shots as Santos Laguna. Central midfielder Jose Vasquez nabbed the breakthrough goal in the 35th minute and Carlos Peña doubled the lead 2 minutes before halftime.

Vasquez knuckled his stellar shot from 30 yards out into the top of the net past a diving Oswaldo Sánchez. Peña's goal was a bit less special as he followed up on a shot by Matías Britos and simply buried the rebound from close range.

Substitute attacker Franco Arizala looked to seal up the result for León in the 70th minute. Arizala burst into the area down the right side to smash home a low cross from Matías Britos into the far post. The Colombian forward appeared to be in an innocuous position but somehow rifled his shot into the inside netting from a near impossible angle to put the home side up 3-0.

A wicked error by goalkeeper William Yarbrough gifted Santos a lifeline as Javier “Chuletita” Orozco poached a goal back in the second minute of stoppage time. Yarbrough missed an attempt punch-clearance and Chuletita easily out-muscled fullback Edwin Hernández to nod his header into the empty net.

Semifinals - Partidos de vuelta (second legs)

América vs. Toluca – Estadio Azteca

After probing a few times in the opening sequences, América earned a corner kick in the 13th minute. Sambueza's initial ball in was half-cleared but the naturalized Mexican citizen sent a second cross into the area. In the confusion, thinking the play was broken, Toluca's defense did not pick up central defender Aquivaldo Mosquera who was able to power his header home from 10 yards out for the lead.

Toluca's head coach Jose Cardozo made 3 attack-minded substitutions to push for the go-ahead goal on aggregate. As the Diablos Rojos pushed men forward they were vulnerable on the counter attack and América won a corner from an odd-man rush. Sambueza played the corner short to Osvaldito Martínez who hit an out-swinging cross from the right side towards the center of the penalty area. Substitute midfielder Jesús Molina won his header in the sea of bodies and nodded the ball down inside the far post to seal América's spot in the finals.

To compound Toluca's collapse, 37-year-old Antônio “Sinha” Naelson committed a rookie foul that earned him his marching orders and ended all hopes of a comeback. After losing possession in midfield, Sinha came down late with a high challenge on Miguel Layún's foot that resulted in a straight red card for the Brazil-born Mexican international.

Santos Laguna vs. León - Estadio Corona

Santos Laguna had a number of quality chances in the first half of its second leg match at home against León, but couldn't beat Yarbrough. The second half picked up right where the first left off, and Santos capitalized on its heavy pressure with a goal in the 51st minute. Oribe Peralta drove down the center of the pitch and hit a right footed shot past the keeper near the top of the 18-yard box.

Just 5 minutes later, León's Mauro Boselli caught the Santos Laguna defense napping with a quick goal at the near post. Matías Brito sent in a low cross from the left side and the Argentine lost his mark to tap home the equalizer. That goal restored León's 2-goal aggregate lead but the visiting side weren't done.

As Santos were forced to chase the game and push forward, León's Arizala was able to spring a dangerous ball over the top for Peña to run onto on the counter. Peña easily rounded Oswaldo Sánchez and struck a left-footed shot into the empty net for the cherry on top of León's victory.

A handball by Edwin Hernández in the area gave Santos a penalty deep in stoppage time but even with the spot kick converted by midfielder Juan Pablo Rodriguez, León ran out 5-3 winners in the two-legged tie.

Closing thoughts

América is in its second consecutive finals series and gives Las Águilas a chance to win back-to-back short season torneos, a feat only accomplished once by UNAM Pumas in 2004.

León made its way to the finals in just the third torneo since being promoted to Liga MX. Tijuana won its first title in the third short season tournament of its time in the first division and León will be trying to recreate that excitement.

NEXT UP: December 12 – Liga MX Apertura 2013 Liguilla Finals, First Leg: Club León vs. Club América , Estadio León, Guanajuato. 9 p.m. EST; Telemundo, Telemundo Deportes

December 15 – Liga MX Apertura 2013 Liguilla Finals, Second Leg: Club América vs. Club León, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City. 7 p.m.EST; Univision

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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