How Leon Overcame Club America to Win Liga MX Apertura 2013

With a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, León executed its gameplan perfectly to punish America and lift the trophy
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, December 19, 2013

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

The stage was set for a record-breaking comeback under outgoing manager Miguel Herrera but Club América were thoroughly outplayed. León's players were lethal on the counter-attack as they carried a 2-0 win from the first leg, Carlos “Gullit” Peña pulling the strings going forward and William Yarbrough standing on his head in goal to keep América at bay.

Over the course of 180 minutes of exciting soccer, the result was decided by the impact of individual performances. Unfortunately for the legions of Americanistas throughout Mexico and the United States, León players seemed to rise to the occasion while many of América's Águilas appeared to shy away from the pressure.

Partido de ida – Estadio León

Carlos Peña hit a blistering rebounded effort from outside of the area that dipped down under a diving Moises Munoz to bounce into the bottom corner of the far post and give León the lead in just the 11th minute. Rightback Jonny Magallón had sent an early cross into the area that was cleared out by Aquivaldo Mosquera but the ball bounced awkwardly next to Juan Carlos Medina, who was unable to get a touch, and Carlos Peña burst forward to strike on goal.

Both Munoz and León goalkeeper William Yarbrough made spectacular saves while the score was 1-0. Just moments after América force a scramble in the León goal-mouth, La Fiera struck on the break. Carlos Peña played as the pivot in an advanced central position, receiving a pass and immediately dishing the ball to his left to Mauro Boselli. Boselli followed the path of the ball wide to the left of goal before brilliantly chipping a shot to the side netting at the far post for 2-0. That combination would prove to be crucial in the second leg as well.

The first leg loss was not an ideal result for América but this past May Mexican soccer fans saw Las Águilas come back playing with 10 men down 2-0 on aggregate in the last minute of regulation. This group of América players had shown in the Clausura 2013 an uncanny ability to persevere against obstacles; a quality repeated as the azulcrema stormed to first place in the Apertura regular season.

Partido de vuelta – Estadio Azteca

Both teams lined up with strong offensive potential despite León holding onto a two-goal advantage. As the game kicked off over 100,000 fans had packed into Estadio Azteca hopeful for another exciting comeback like the 2013 Clausura Final.

After a neat series of passes in tight spaces, Luis “Quick” Mendoza pushed forward into the area off the right channel and saw his low shot hit back off the far post. In the 12th minute, Miguel Layún hit an inch perfect cross from the left wing to Narciso Mina in the center of the area. Mina mistimed his jump so he connected with the ball as he was falling backwards and the resulting header flew softly into Yarbrough's chest.

Just a minute later León punished América for failing to take its earlier chances. Peña received the ball through the middle and set up Mauro Boselli to the right side of the goal. Boselli didn't think twice and buried his shot into the far post to put León in the driver's seat 3-0 on aggregate.

Boselli's well-struck goal silenced all but the León fans inside the Azteca, but América's insistence quickly warmed the crowd back up. Despite continuing to create chances, a combination of poor finishing and brave defending from León prevented Las Águilas from getting on the board.

With León leading 1-0 on the night and América pressing hard on the attack, match referee Roberto García Orozco assumed center stage. On a play in which Argentine-Mexican midfielder Rubens Sambueza was fouled by left back Edwin Hernández on the edge of the area, García decided to show a yellow card to Sambueza for diving. In the ensuing fracas, club captain Aquivaldo Mosquera was also booked for dissent and an assistant coach was dismissed from the sidelines. García made a mistake on the call and then compounded his error, which only escalated the aggressive attacking play from América, spurned by a “us against the world” mentality that suits the most hated team in Mexico.

Unable to rely on perennially misfiring forward Narciso Mina despite constant quality service, Sambueza stepped up for América. In the closing minutes of the first half the attacking midfielder pushed forward again from the right flank. He isolated León's left back and cut inside to send a ball to the far post but the maybe-cross/maybe-shot deflected off centerback Juan Ignacio “Nacho” González to fly past Yarbrough into the net. The Gonzalez own goal tied the game at 1-1 but still left América 2 goals behind on aggregate.

América goes all or nothing

América started the second half brightly, needing 2 goals to send the game into extra time. Hexagonal hero Raúl Jiménez created a chance for himself in the area but had to settle for a corner. The tide seemed to be turning in América's favor as goalkeeper William Yarbrough was shown the yellow card for time wasting on a goalkick in the 51st minute.

On a corner kick won by Matías Brito, Maza Rodríguez got confused trying to ball-watch, which allowed Nacho Gonzalez to easily beat the national team defender to the ball and power home a header from 12 yards for 2-1.

Rather than calm down, the late only picked up in intensity after León's second goal. Now needing 3 goals just to push the game past 90 minutes, Sambueza shouldered the responsibility for América and continued to push the team forward. A few minutes after Nacho's goal, Sambu went down in the León penalty area clutching his shins and claiming a foul. The referee ignored Sambueza and Britos drew a straight red card from Maza Rodríguez on the resulting counter-attack.

América players and fans (certainly head coach Miguel Herrera) may have felt hard done by with the decisions from the referee, but León thoroughly outplayed Las Águilas. Even with the poor decisions against him personally, Sambueza said after the game to MedioTiempo that “I think that León was a worthy winner, more important [than the refereeing] was that we couldn't score our goals.”

Sambueza continued to be the only bright spot for a faltering América side. Even though the team was playing with 10 men and down 3 goals, Sambu continued to drive forward playing quality passes and drawing fouls. Around the hour mark, Sambueza was absolutely butchered by León's defense as Rafa Márquez stomped hard on his plant foot while another player swiped his other leg from behind him, in a play that was indicative of América's attacking fortunes.

La Fiera put the icing on the cake with its third goal of the night, a Edwin Hernández strike on yet another dangerous counter-attack. With acres of space down the left flank, the fullback was able to get into the area and place his shot to the far post past Munoz.

Miguel Herrera joined his assistant in the dressing room after a rather ignominious dismissal in the 81st minute. Not one to hide his passion, Piojo engaged in an intense shouting match with both the referee and the fourth official. As if that wasn't a controversial enough end to his tenure at América before taking on the national team job full-time, Herrera also stormed out of the post-game press conference.

Postgame thoughts

As explosive as Herrera was, Gustavo Matosas was even more dignified. León's head coach made a point to console América's players and exchange a lengthy embrace with El Piojo before celebrating with his players.

León won its 6th top-flight title and its first trophy in the third torneo since returning to Liga MX. Club América's quest to become bicampeones was not to be but it will be interesting to see how much of this team (both personnel and fighting spirit) remains under the guidance of recently appointed head coach  Antonio “Turco” Mohammed.

To further illustrate how crucial Carlos “Gullit” Peña was to the success of León this season, he was recognized as the player of the competition by Mexican publication Record. Peña had a breakthrough year in 2013 and will be a crucial cog in Mexico's midfield approaching the World Cup.


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.