The Tigres and León kept pace with first place Monterrey, defeating Necaxa and Toluca, respectively.
André-Pierre Gignac and Angel Mena played the role of hero in leading their team to home wins Saturday night.
Gignac scored twice as the Tigres held off visiting Necaxa 3-2. The win keeps the Tigres in second place with 16 points, 1 back of league-leading Monterrey. Enner Valencia also scored for the Tigres who had to fight to the finish to preserve the win over the plucky Rayos.
In León, Mena scored a brace and added an assist as the host Esmeraldas crunched Toluca 3-0. The easy victory gives León 14 points, good for third place, and leaves no doubt that the Esmeraldas intend to make noise in the playoffs this season.
Tigres 3, Necaxa 2
The Tigres overcame a gallant performance by the Rayos, finally solving the Necaxa defense in just before halftime. Up to that point, Necaxa seemed to be scrambling on defense, but always had enough players back to cover up.
In minute 40, Luis Quiñones used some clever change-of-pace to get past Cristián Calderón on the right side and cut back a pass to Gignac near the penalty spot. The pass was just a bit behind the Frenchman, who trapped the ball, knocking it forward then back-heeled a shot inside the far post. It was a brilliant goal, particularly how much pace Gignac was able to get on the shot.
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Brian Fernández tied the game 10 minutes after halftime off a long cross from winger Kevin Mercado. Fernández was at the back post and shook defender Francisco Venegas who tried to cover him inside. The cross flew over Venegas and Fernández easily headed home.
The Tigres broke the tie just 3 minutes later when Necaxa fell asleep on defense. On a throw in, the Rayos failed to mark Javier Aquino down the flank and the two center backs hustled to cut off the advantage. But that left Gignac alone in the middle with the smaller Calderón trying to mark him. Aquino sent in a cross and Gignac nodded it into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Enner Valencia pushed the lead to 3-1 with a brilliant individual effort, dribbling past three Rayos then slotting home with the left foot from just inside the box.
Necaxa refused to give up and sub Rodrigo Contreras cut the deficit in half in minute 87. The Rayos even appeared to get the equalizer 3 minutes later but the goal by Fernández was waved off for offside after ref Francisco Chacon checked video replay.
The loss was the first on the season for Necaxa, knocking the Rayos into fifth place.
León 3, Toluca 0
The Esmeraldas dispatched the visiting Diablos Rojos with rock-solid defense and timely offense.
León was enjoying the better of the play most of the night, but Toluca nearly grabbed the lead in minute 60 but Emanuel Gigliotti was ruled offside.
The game was sstill coreless with less than 25 minutes remaining when Toluca captain Antonio Rios made an egregious error to earn his second yellow card. Man of the Match Mena had gotten to the touch line to left of goal then deked a Toluca defender before chipping a cross into the goal mouth. Rios leaped into the air and knocked it away with his hand, not knowing that teammate Jonatan Maidana was in position to clear it out of danger’s way.
Rios was shown a red card and Toluca played the rest of the game with 10 men after Mena converted the penalty kick.
In minute 76, Mena made a picture-perfect lead pass to José Juan Macías and the teenager converted his fourth goal of the season with a nifty one-timer. Macías returned the favor during injury time, sending Mena free into the box whereupon the Argentine paused as a Toluca defender slid by, then knocked home his 6th goal of the season (one behind league leader Rogelio Funes Mori). Mena also leads the league with 5 assists.
León did not allow a shot on goal and boasts the league’s second-best defense having conceded only 5 goals through 7 matches.