No. 1 seed León and No. 2 seed Tigres meet in the final to determine the Clausura 2019 champion.
It’s doubtful that anybody had León playing against the Tigres in their preseason predictions. But these two teams are the most deserving.
León stunned the Liga MX cognoscenti by running away with the regular-season title, establishing a new consecutive win streak in the process (12 straight victories). Midfielder Angel Mena joined the Esmeraldas from Cruz Azul in a little-noticed winter transfer, but he has turned in an MVP season for La Fiera.
Top-seeded León scored more goals than anybody else (41) and conceded fewer goals than any other team (14) as coach Ignacio Ambriz seemed to push the right buttons all season long. His team is aiming for its 8th league title.
The Tigres rebounded from a disappointing Apertura 2018, battling for top playoff seeding the entire season despite losing star striker André-Pierre Gignac to a knee injury for 5 games.
The Tigres also reached the final of the Concacaf Champions League last month, but lost to Monterrey, so they will not want to end the season empty-handed. Tuca Ferretti’s team is battling for its 7th league championship.
Tigres 1, Monterrey 0
Midfielder Guido Pizarro bravely headed home a goal in minute 42 then clashed heads with Jesús Gallardo. Pizarro missed the remainder of the match with the head injury, but the Tigres held on – goalie Nahuel Guzmán withstood a barrage of 16 shots and made 6 saves. The win avenged the painful loss to the Rayados in the Concacaf Champions League final.
León 0, América 1
La Fiera gave up an early goal (minute 6) then barely survived a wave of yellows jerseys pressing forward in search of the winner. León midfielder Rubens Sambueza was red-carded in minute 76 and the offense managed only a single shot on goal, but the 1-1 aggregate score was enough to see the Esmeraldas through to the final.
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Clausura 2019 result
León 2, Monterrey 2
This was the season opener for both teams. The host Esmeraldas had finished in 14th place in the Apertura 2018 while the Tigres had disappointed by ending as only the #6 seed before getting knocked out in the quarterfinals. So this result was seen as a surprise with Yairo Moreno putting León up 2-1 in minute 89 before André-Pierre Gignac converted a controversial penalty deep into stoppage time.
L. Rodríguez – Ayala – Meza – Torres Nilo
Carioca – Pizarro
Quiñones – Vargas – Aquino
It seems that the Tigres will be without central defender Carlos Salcedo (left knee) and left back Jesús Dueñas (head) after the pair suffered injuries in the semifinals against Monterrey. That means extra work on the left side for winger Javier Aquino who must track back to help Jorge Torres Nilo. Goalie Nahuel Guzmán has been the MVP of the Tigres’ playoff run so far and he will have to be on his game. Up front, the insertion of Edu Vargas in place of Enner Valencia seemed to open space in last Saturday’s return match against the Rayados and striker André-Pierre Gignac must take advantage of this.
Navarro – Mosquera – González – Tesillo
Meneses – J. Rodríguez – Montes – Mena
Campbell – Moreno
León must replace striker José Juan Macías (Under-20 national team duty) and midfielder Rubens Sambueza (suspended). The bigger hole to fill is that of Macías who has scored twice in the playoffs. Sambueza missed time during the season due to injury so the Esmeraldas are used to playing without him. Left back William Tesillo had a solid series against América but right back Fernando Navarro did not. Both will again have their hands full since the Tigres like to attack from the outside in.
Tigres: Midfielders Rafa Carioca and Guido Pizarro must be alert to protect the two back-ups behind them on defense (Meza and Torres Nilo) while also chasing León captain Luis Montes who is the engine of the Esmeraldas offense. If they can control midfield, the Tigres will be able to play at their preferred pace.
León: Midfielders José Iván Rodríguez and Luis Montes face the tough challenge of butting heads with the Tigres’ two-headed midfield monster (Carioca and Pizarro). Montes will have to work hard to restake his claim as the best box-to-box midfielder in Liga MX. Rodríguez is coming off an ankle injury that saw him miss a game (the first leg of the semifinals against América) for the first time all season. He will chase Edu Vargas and press all over the field.
How will León cope without José Juan Macías out in front of the attack? Will Angel Mena rediscover his regular-season form? Can the Esmeraldas take advantage of the Tigres second-choice defenders on the left side? Is Tigres striker André-Pierre Gignac fully fit after his midseason knee injury? We might not know the answers to these questions after tonight, but we do know this will be a hard-fought 90 minutes. The Tigres are 7-2-1 at home this season (including playoffs) while León is 8-1-1 on the road. This game might come down to which coach pulls the right strings in the second half.