By DAN KARELL
For the second consecutive Liga MX half-season, Club America will be competing for a final.
Las Aguilas will meet arguably the next best team in Mexico, Club Leon, in the Apertura playoffs final, which will be decided over two matches, starting on Tuesday and finishing on Saturday. America defeated Toluca, 3-2, over the two legs, overcoming a goal deficit to win at home, while Leon drew Santos Laguna, 2-2, on the road to take a 5-3 aggregate victory.
The run to the final for Leon represents a tremendous turnaround from where the historic club was just 18 months ago ago. After winning promotion in the Clausura season in mid-2012, Leon has quickly made up ground to become one of the strongest teams in the country, featuring players such as Rafa Marquez, Luis Montes, and Carlos Peña, who are all with El Tri and are likely to be headed to the 2014 World Cup.
For America head coach Miguel Herrera, the Liguilla final is a chance for him to go out as a winner before taking over as Mexico National Team head coach on a full time basis next week.
Here’s a closer look at how the Liga MX Playoffs – Semifinal Round went down:
AMERICA SHUT OUT TEN-MAN TOLUCA ON WAY TO FINAL
Following a 2-1 defeat to Toluca on the road three days prior, Club America new they needed a huge effort back home to lift their side into the final.
The hosts were buoyed in just the 13th minute as center back Aquivaldo Mosquera scored off a cross from right in the middle of the box, powering a header past Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera to level the aggregate at 2-2.
With new life, America continued to attack to the delight of the packed house at Estadio Azteca, and nearly went up 2-0 in the 27th minute as Luis Gabriel Rey’s close-range header was palmed away by Talavera. America goalkeeper Moises Muñoz came up with a game-saving play of his own, making a tremendous diving save off a header by Toluca forward Pablo Velasquez in the 71st minute to keep America in the match.
After Muñoz made another great save in the 80th, America’s Jesus Molina put the match away in the 84th minute with a free header in the box, sending America to their second straight final.
LEON KEEP PACE WITH SANTOS LAGUNA IN DRAW TO ADVANCE ON AGGREGATE
For a team as defensively stout as Club Leon, it’s usually a surprise when they concede two goals in a game. In this instance, their offense stepped up to bail the team out once again.
Following a scoreless first half, Santos Laguna opened the scoring to the delight of the crowd at Estadio Corona with a fine finish on the run from Mexico National Team forward Oribe Peralta in the 51st minute. His goal though was answered five minutes later with a sweet finish by Leon forward Mauro Boselli, trying the match on the night and keeping Leon ahead on the aggregate.
Late in the game, Leon’s emerging midfielder Carlos “Gullit” Peña stormed forward on a breakaway, rounding Santos goalkeeper Osvaldo Sanchez and finishing cooly in the 89th minute to send his side to their first final since the early 1990s. Santos forward Juan Rodriguez scored a penalty kick in stoppage time after a handball was called but it proved to be the final kick of the match.
What do you think of the Liga MX Apertura final? Impressed with Leon’s scoring on the road? Do you see America taking home the title with Herrera before he leaves the club?
Share your thoughts below.