Leon will open their Apertura 2019 campaign on Saturday afternoon visiting the always dangerous Tuzos of Pachuca.
Esmeraldas manager Ignacio Ambriz certainly deserved Coach of the year honors after his team’s brilliant display throughout the tournament. Leon finished the Clausura 2019 with outstanding numbers while setting several league records.
Nacho’s boys finished the season with 13 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses, while scoring league-leading 41 goals and allowing a league-low 14. Their 41 points sat them atop the table when the regular season ended, earning the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Esmeraldas set a new record for points in a 17-game season and also made history by winning 12 games in a row.
Leon had high hopes going into the Liguilla and easily dispatched Tijuana in the first round before getting past defending champion America because of its seeding (the two-game series ended 1-1). This marked the second consecutive time Leon had stopped an Aguilas repeat attempt. The Esmeraldas upset the the top-seeded and defending champion Aguilas in the Finals of the Apertura 2013 season.
In last season’s Final, Leon came up against the No. 2 seeded Tigres and the Esmeraldas ran out of gas. Andre-Pierre Gignac scored in the first leg and the Tigres defense made that single goal stand up.
Leon returns this season with four new players: forwards Ismael Sosa, Leo Ramos and Jesus Godinez, plus midfielder Jown Cardona. These new faces could make Leon’s attack even more lethal. Nacho Ambriz definitely has a roster that could contend for the title again.
Pachuca will have a lot to prove this season after a schizophrenic Clausura 2019 in which they were the league’s best home team (8-0-0), but were winless on the road (0-4-5). The Tuzos qualified for the playoffs as the No. 7 seed and fought the No. 2 Tigres to a 2-2 aggregate draw, but the Tigres advanced as the higher seed.
Pachuca aims to return to the Liguilla hunting for their seventh Liga MX trophy. To do so, tey’ll have to avoid the scary slow start they had in the Clausura 2019. They reversed course after they brought in a new coach, Argentine Martin Palermo.
Palermo has five new players to work into his rotation, with high hopes for central defender Gustavo Cabral, winger Jonathan Copete, goalie Rodrigo Rey and midfielder Romario Ibarra.
If the Tuzos are dominant at home again this year, the opener at Estadio Hidalgo against a high-powered Leon team could be a thrilling match with plenty of action up-and-down the field. Both teams are capable of scoring outbursts, but I’m seeing a hard-fought draw.