With a two-goal flurry in a eight-minute span in the second half, Pachuca got the early edge on Leon in the Liga MX Clausura final following a 3-2 win in the Estadio Leon.
This first leg was a prime example of the fact that you don't need to be watching soccer of the highest level in order to enjoy the game. The upcoming Champions League final will be hard-pressed to match the fast-paced, continuous action on Thursday night.
Who will take the Liga MX Clausura title?
In the final minute alone, Pachuca goalkeeper Oscar Perez made two saves that preserved the win for his side. Leon players had their arms extended in preparation of a celebration, only to watch the ball sail harmlessly out of play.
Leon will certainly view this game as a major opportunity lost. Playing at home, they had the upper hand for most of the first half. They could've easily been up 1-0 or 2-0 before Carlos Pena put Leon one goal up in the 34th minute.
Just when things were looking up, though, Enner Valencia equalized in the 42nd minute.
The first half finished 1-1. As Mexican football expert Tom Marshall pointed out, Pachuca should've felt lucky to have even been tied:
Halftime in the Liga MX final: Leon 1-1 Pachuca. Los Tuzos 2nd best for much of half, but exposed Leon's defensive frailties.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) May 16, 2014
However, the second part of Marshall's tweet proved prophetic in the second half. Leon's back four, which hadn't performed great in the first half, melted down over the final 45 minutes.
Valencia struck again in the 61st minute, and once again, it came from a set piece:
Leon have conceded two goals from set-pieces now. Very similar story as La Fiera in the Libertadores.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) May 16, 2014
Hirving Lozano doubled Pachuca's lead in the 69th minute. He was on the receiving end of a beautiful through ball from Dieter Villalpando, who assisted on all three of Pachuca's goals, before slotting the ball past William Yarbrough.
Speaking to Marshall, the club's sporting director Marco Garces praised Lozano's ability before the final, and his faith was promptly repaid:
Pachuca sporting director on Lozano: "Really excited about him ... he is the typical winger that we want to produce" http://t.co/nSxt6fh3Z0— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) May 16, 2014
What had been a problem for Leon turned into an epidemic. Their back four looked liable to concede any time Pachuca had possession in the attacking half:
León's defense has fallen apart under scrutiny in this second half. Pachuca simply too mobile to thwart.— Kyle McCarthy (@kylejmccarthy) May 16, 2014
Rafa Marquez in particular was having himself a howler. The 35-year-old doesn't have the mobility he once did, and as a result, the Pachuca defense was getting in behind him at will. Marquez couldn't cope with the pace of the opposition attack:
Rafa Marquez and Jonny Magallón struggling tonight on defense.— Juan Arango (@JuanG_Arango) May 16, 2014
Largely against the run of play, Leon pulled one back, though, with the ball deflecting in off Miguel Herrera. That gives them some hope going into the second leg, though walking into the Estadio Hidalgo and earning a victory won't be easy.
ESPN's Paul Carr tweeted out what's at stake for both clubs over these two legs:
1st Leg of Liga MX final begins at 9 ET on Telemundo. León goes for back-to-back titles. Pachuca seeks its 6th title, 1st since 2007.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) May 16, 2014
The second leg is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on Sunday night.
Many soccer fans have accustomed themselves to valuing away goals above all. As Marshall pointed out, though, there's no away-goal advantage in the Clausura final. Pachuca can't hold out for a 1-0 or 2-1 defeat and still walk away with the title. The second leg would go to extra time if the aggregate scores are level:
Remember no away goals in the Liga MX final. If score level after the two legs, the match goes to extra time on Sunday.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) May 16, 2014
Given the fact that Leon are chasing the match and Pachuca can't afford to sit back for the entire match, the second leg should be 90 more minutes of nonstop, breathless soccer.