Monarcas flit past Aguilas in semifinal opener

Morelia players celebrate after the final whistle signaled the end of their semifinal match against América on Thursday night. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Morelia players celebrate after the final whistle signaled the end of their semifinal match against América on Thursday night. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Morelia played a near-perfect game against heavily favored América and head into the return match with a 2-0 advantage.

Wow! That butterfly really did sting like a bee! The Monarcas of Morelia banged home two goals and will float into Estadio Azteca on Sunday night with a fine chance of advancing to the Liga MX Final.

Fernando Aristeguieta and Aldo Rocha were the goal scorers, but Rodrigo Millar was the key contributor and the entire Morelia team displayed tactical discipline. The Monarcas exhibited ball movement, spacing and recognition. Coach Pablo Guede installed an outstanding game plan and his team executed it with near perfection.

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Morelia’s first goal came just after the quarter hour after América goalie Guillermo Ochoa made a poor clearance effort that Millar intercepted near midfield. The Chilean midfielder surveyed the field and saw Luis “Quick” Mendoza making a run between central defenders Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera. Millar’s pass was spot on, Mendoza brought it down beautifully, he turned to face Aguilera then calmly slid a pass to Aristeguieta who was closing in on the back side. The Venezuelan striker made not mistake and slotted home for a 1-0 lead. Or did he?

The side judge had his flag raised for offside. A quick review of the replay showed Mendoza had timed his run perfectly and the goal was validated. Sixteen minutes in and the underdog Monarcas were leading 1-0.

The visiting Aguilas went a man down in minute 35 when left back Jorge Sánchez rashly tackled Edison Flores to earn a second yellow card. With that, Morelia gained control of the match, increasing possession time and shutting down the América attack which was weakened by the necessity of subbing out Andrés Ibarguen to fill the vacancy left by Sánchez.

Monarcas feature potent fast break

Monarcas beat Aguilas
Morelia shut down América’s offense with a swarming defense. Here, Henry Martín is feeling the smothering pressure from the Monarcas. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Six minutes into the second half, Millar foiled an Aguilas corner kick possession, stealing the ball at the top of the box and the Monarcas were off to the races, a 5-on-2 break-out developing. Millar dribbled about 35 meters before forwarding a pass to Flores in the left channel, the Puruvian lofted a pass to “Quick” on the right side and he chipped a shot over a sprawling América defender right into the path of the trailing Rocha who chopped home a volley off the bounce just as two trailing Aguilas came onto the scene. 2-0 Morelia in minute 51.

The Monarcas launched three other thrilling counterattacks that had fans on the edge of their seats, but two petered out and the third was broken up in the box by a hustling Carlos Vargas.

Morelia seemed destined to find a third goal until Sebastián Vegas made a rash decision, knocking down Federico Viñas near the midfield stripe. The foolhardy tackle earned the defender a second yellow card and Morelia no longer had a man advantage.

Monarcas goalie Sebastián Sosa was called upon twice and he made fine saves both times. The first required two saves. Federico Viñas sent a header low toward the right post and Sosa got his left foot on it, knocking it right to Aguilera whose quick shot was smothered by Sosa at close range.

The return match is set for Sunday evening at Estadio Azteca. If Morelia scores, América will be forced to win by three goals. This is certainly not too big an ask for the Aguilas who scored four times against the league’s leading defense … on the road!