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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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