Esmeraldas and Aguilas battle to stalemate in León

Yairo Moreno dribbles through América's Roger Martinez and Renato Ibarra during their second round match in León. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)
Yairo Moreno dribbles through América's Roger Martinez and Renato Ibarra during their second round match in León. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /

Neither Esmeraldas nor Aguilas could find the net and the Liga MX title favorites played to a 0-0 tie in León.

In a rematch of one of last season’s semifinal, León and América played an intense scoreless draw that featured two lengthy video review delays. The first review resulted in an Aguilas penalty kick getting taken away and the second produced the ejection of Esmeraldas midfielder Fernando Navarro in minute 82.

The Esmeraldas eliminated América in the semifinals last season and produced more scoring chances on Saturday night, but were constantly irritated at the leniency ref Roberto García Orozco granted the Aguilas.

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Garcia Orozco did not have a great first half. After being basically exiled from Liga MX last season (he only called one game during the Clausura 2019), García Orozco appeared unwilling to take charge, allowing rough play from América, including several tackles deserving of a booking. Instead, he handed out only one yellow card during the first 45 minutes, and in the replay, it appeared the León player deserved it more than recipient of the caution, Matheus Uribe of América.

The ref’s decision midway through the second half to reverse his penalty call after looking at video replay incensed América coach Miguel Herrera.

América goalie Agustín Marchesín was excellent between the pipes again, making a sprawling save on Ángel Mena just before halftime. Last year’s leading scorer, Mena does not appear to be in top shape yet. He joined León’s training camp late after playing for Ecuador in the Copa América. On Saturday night, Mena missed a few plays that he made with regularity last season.

Esmeraldas, Aguilas scoreless draw
América goalkeeper Agustín Marchesín kept a clean sheet in León, but it wasn’t easy. (Photo by VICTOR CRUZ/AFP/Getty Images) /

León coach Nacho Ambriz juggled his line-up masterfully to cover for the absence of his two holding midfielders: Iván Rodríguez, recovering from ankle surgery in June for an injury suffered against América in the Clausura 2019 semifinals; and Carlos Guerrero who was red-carded last week against Pachuca.

Right fullback Fernando Navarro moved into midfield while central defender Andrés Mosquera slid out to right fullback. Left fullback William Tesillo flipped to right fullback and left winger Yairo Moreno started at left fullback. This last decision appeared risky since Moreno is not known for his defensive work on the wing and he had the dangerous Renato Ibarro to contend with. Surprisingly, Moreno held his own, working hard on defense and presenting problems for América when moving forward.

In minute 75, Giovani dos Santos subbed in for Roger Martínez, making his Liga MX debut at the age of 30, after spending most of his career in Europe. Ironically, legendary América player Cuauhtémoc Blanco made his debut against León (Dec. 5, 1992) as did teen sensation Diego Lainez (March 4, 2017).

In minute 90, Ibarra gathered a pass all alone on the back side and León goalie Rodolfo Cota raced off his line to smother the shot, snuffing out América’s best chance for the win.

Two weeks into the season and América is sitting on 4 points after playing last year’s No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed (a 4-2 win over Monterrey). Not a bad start.

León also has 4 points from its two games after defeating Pachuca 3-1 in Week 1.