Pachuca ‘loses’ at home 1-1; Leon flexes its muscle

PACHUCA, MEXICO - MAY 08: Players of Pachuca react after the quarterfinals first leg match between Pachuca and Tigres UANL as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Hidalgo Stadium on May 8, 2019 in Pachuca, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
PACHUCA, MEXICO - MAY 08: Players of Pachuca react after the quarterfinals first leg match between Pachuca and Tigres UANL as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Hidalgo Stadium on May 8, 2019 in Pachuca, Mexico. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The Liga MX quarterfinals kicked off Wednesday night with No. 1 seed León and No. 2 seed Tigres showing why they are among the favorites to win the title.

The top two seeds in the Liga MX went on the road to open the Liguilla and both León and the Tigres demonstrated that they are worthy of their seeding, leaving Pachuca and Tijuana on life support.

The Tigres ended Pachuca’s 8-game winning streak at home by slowing down the Tuzos attack and heading home with a 1-1 draw. León withstood two furious stretches of Tijuana intensity to open each half, then put on a clinic to claim a 3-1 road win.

Pachuca 1, Tigres 1

Pachuca is perfect at home no more. Tigres keeper Nahuel Guzmán was the star of the game and he became the first visiting goalie not to lose in Estadio Hidalgo this season, backstopping his team to a tie in the first leg of the Liga MX quarterfinals.

The Tigres played at a patient pace, trying to deny Pachuca possession and they were successful, holding onto the ball 57% of the game. The Tuzos pressed effectively and took a vertical approach on offense, creating plenty of scoring chances.

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“Chaka” Rodríguez was guilty of an own goal just 19 minutes in when a long cross flew over a scrum in front of the Tigres defender and he deflected the ball back across the front of goal and just inside the far post. There was nothing Guzmán could do.

Only 3 minutes later, Javier Aquino had equalized when his shot from wide right of the goal was slightly redirected by Tuzos midfielder Erick Aguirre and found its way into the net.

Pachuca then saw leading scorer Franco Jara limp off the field just before halftime and Ismael Sosa was brought on to replace him. The Tuzos continued to attack and their movement and distribution caused the Tigres some problems. But when Pachuca launched a shot on net, Guzmán was there to make the save.

The Argentine keeper put on quite a show, making 7 saves in all, twice parrying shots that were ticketed for the net behind him. In minute 88, Guzmán leapt to block a bullet from Erick Aguirre, then quickly scooped up the rebound before holding the ball high in the air for all the Pachuca fans to see. Guzmán was also quick off his line, snuffing out two or three Tuzos scoring opportunities inside the box.

The Tigres offense also squandered chances to steal a victory. Enner Valencia went on a couple long runs, but was twice errant with cutback passes. Striker André-Pierre Gignac seemed to be off a beat or two, still not back in rhythm after missing 6 weeks with a knee injury. Despite his offensive miscues, Gignac constantly hustled back on defense and he was a contributor to the team’s ability to limit Pachuca possessions.

The Tigres will host the return match on Saturday night and Pachuca will have to win on the road, something it was unable to do all season.

Tijuana 1, León 3

Tijuana opened the first-leg match against the league’s best team with 20 minutes of intensity. The Xolos displayed crisp passing, heavy pressing and energy going forward while León was careless and back on its heels. But they did not get the result they wanted.

Tijuana applied lots of pressure right off bat and León keeper Rodolfo Cota was forced to make save less than a minute in, then defender Andrés Mosquera cleared a header off the line a few minutes later after Cota failed to cut off a high cross.

Then León found its equilibrium and began to string passes together, forcing Tijuana to expend energy chasing the ball. In minute 32, the Esmeraldas executed a clinical counterattack.

Lanky striker Juan José Macias received a through pass from William Tesillo at the top of the box, touched the ball as if he was going to push to the middle but instead quickly rifled a right-footer low to the short side, leaving Manuel Lajud no chance. León suddenly led 1-0 and threatened to score a few more times before halftime.

Tijuana emerged from the locker room re-energized and Gustavo Bou scored 70 seconds after the restart to tie things up. León defender Ramiro González’s lazy outlet pass was stolen by Miller Bolaños at the right sideline and he quickly found Ariel Nahuelpan in the box. The big forward moved toward goal than dropped a pass off to Bou who buried his shot into the back of the net.

But the first-half pattern repeated itself during the second 45 minutes. Tijuana was intense and active for 20 minutes while León sat back and absorbed the pressure. In minute 65, Xolos defender Diego Braghieri headed a ball into his own net off a León corner kick. Six minutes later, a León steal led to a goal by sub Rubens Sambueza and a 3-1 lead for the Esmeraldas.

The visitors then ran out the clock, playing keepaway and stringing 20-25 passes together while creating the occasional scoring chance. León finished the game with 58% possession.

The two teams meet in León for the second leg on Saturday evening.