For the second season in row, the No. 2 seed defeated the No. 1 seed to claim the Liga MX title.
Nahuel Guzmán and the No. 2 seed Tigres shut out the high-powered Esmeraldas of León to earn the club’s 7th Liga MX title, getting a break when league MVP frontrunner Angel Mena limped off in minute 32.
Tigres goalie Nahuel Guzmán sparkled in the second half, making two athletic saves on the same León possession late on to make Andrés-Pierre Gignac’s first-leg goal stand up. The 1-0 aggregate win marked the fifth Liga MX title for the Tigres this decade, a sweet redemption after the disheartening loss to Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions League Final earlier this month.
Besides Guzmán, several Tigres players put in high-quality performances to throttle a León offense that averaged 2.4 goals a game in the regular season. Central defenders Francisco Meza and Hugo Ayala were solid in front of Guzmán and the midfield tandem of Guido Pizarro and Rafa Carioca constantly interrupted León moves toward goal.
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The Monterrey-based club carried out coach Tuca Ferretti’s game plan to perfection, playing disciplined defense, slowing tempo when possible and attacking on the break opportunistically.
The Esmeraldas sorely missed striker José Juan Macías in the series. The 19-year-old left for Poland before the Final to take part in the Under-20 World Cup after scoring a goal in the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
Angel Mena – the league’s scoring and assist leader – was blanketed throughout the finals, mostly invisible in the first leg then suffering a leg injury early in the second leg. Mena became the first goal-scoring champion whose team reached the final to not score a goal in the playoffs. It appeared as though he ran out of gas after a magnificent regular season.
The loss of Mena and the absence of Macías were too much to overcome, despite a splendid performance by Yairo Moreno at left wing and a typically dashing game from Rubens Sambueza who missed the first leg due to a red card suspension.
Battle in midfield
Pizarro and Carioca harassed León skipper Luis Montes and the Esmeraldas had trouble creating scoring chances in the first half despite enjoying a big possession advantage (54% to 46%). Tigres wingers Javier Aquino and Luis Quiñones were dropping back deep to shut down passing lanes into the box, while Edu Vargas and Gignac looked to counter on quick breakouts. The León back line was fundamentally sound, however, and Andrés Mosquera, Ramiro González and William Tesillo kept pushing the ball ahead.
In the second half, Jesús Dueñas subbed in for a banged-up Aquino after missing the first leg with a head injury. This shifted the Tigres from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-2-1, forcing León to attack from the flanks or on the break. Moreno continued to force turnovers and challenge the Tigres defense, but León came up short on several scoring chances in the second half. Twice, the Esmeraldas only produced weak headers on promising centering passes, and once Moreno and Tesillo failed to communicate as they approached a back-side cross resulting in a goal kick for the Tigres.
Just before the hour mark, Dueñas sent Edu Vargas in alone on Rodolfo Cota, but the León goalie charged off his line and blocked the shot with his chest. Shortly after that, León coach Ignacio Ambriz removed a central defender and inserted another striker, Vinicio Angulo. The Esmeraldas kept pressure on the Tigres with longer possessions and constant movement in their offensive half.
Nahuel answers the call
In minute 79, León back Fernando Navarro weaved his way through the defense on the right and sent a clever square pass to Jean Meneses inside the box. Meneses got off a kick shot under pressure but Guzmán dived to his left to palm the ball away. León recovered possession quickly and worked the ball wide left, then crossing to Angulo in the goal mouth only to see Guzmán push the header over the crossbar.
The Tigres did just enough thereafter to keep the ball out of danger’s way and when Esmeraldas defender Mosquera was shown a red card in stoppage time, it was all over for the No. 1 Esmeraldas.
Notes: The Tigres’ victory marked the 16th time that a No. 2 seed won the Liga MX championship, the most for any seed. … The last time a Final ended with a scoreless draw was when Santos and Toluca tied 0-0 in May 2010. Toluca went on to win the title in a penalty shoot-out (the first leg had ended 2-2). … Tigres coach Tuca Ferretti now has 7 league titles, tying legendary manager Ignacio Trelles for the most ever in Liga MX.