The top two teams, the two most consistent teams all season, will meet each other in the Liga MX Apertura final. The top seed, Toluca, saw their two goal advantage vanish in the first half of their second leg vs. Club América before pulling away. The #2 seed, Xolos, overcame their two goal deficit in their home leg against León.
For the second straight season, the top two seeds have survived the liguilla gauntlet to make it to the final. It wasn't easy for either.
Toluca looked to have their semi-final tie wrapped up after punching through América's defense twice at a sold-out Estadio Azteca in the first leg. Toluca's win at the Azteca was a testament to their coach. Enrique Meza has gotten the best out of his players all season, and the executed their game plan to perfection in the first leg. As flawless as Toluca and Meza's performance was mid-week, they were taken completely by surprise in the home leg by America skipper, Miguel Herrera's midfield heavy line-up.
Herrera had to do without his ace striker, Chucho Benítez, who was relegated to spot duty because of an injury, so he opted to use Rubens Sambueza and Hobbit Bermúdez from the start. As a result, the Mexico City side dominated midfield, dominated possession, and were justly rewarded with two first half goals. A friend of mine tweeted early in the day that all of the Catholic masses in Austin were filled to capacity this morning with folks wearing yellow. Amercanistas always said God was one of theirs, Would there be another goal to complete the miracle?
There would be one more goal scored, but it would be by Toluca, who spent the rest of the match clearing out the inevitable low precentage crosses sent in by a desperate team with four strikers on the pitch. The goal did not come for America, and now Toluca is in position to win their 11th title (8th in the short season format), which would put them in a tie with Chivas as the most decorated team in Liga MX.
Standing in their way is the Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles De Caliente - better known to the world as Xolos - founded waaaay back in 2007. Their ascent to the top of the Mexican soccer world has been nothing short of spectacular. Most teams that earn promotion to Liga MX are hard pressed to stay afloat, much less compete for a spot in the post season. It is much more common to see the newbies stumble back to the lower ranks within a couple of years, not make the post season. This liguilla saw last year's and this year's jumpers, León, play each other for the right to play in the Liga MX final.
León was the only team to defeat Xolos during the season and took full advantage of their intimidating home field advantage to take a 2-0 lead at midweek. León's coach, Gustavo Matosas said after the first leg that his team would not let up offensively. Well, that was not the case at the Estadio Caliente. The Panzas Verdes never heated up, and after conceding the first goal, Matosas replaced one of his strikers with another defender in hopes of soaking up all the pressure.
It didn't work.
Colombian Duvier Riascos knocked in the equalizer which would put them through, and then Richard Ruiz made it official in stoppage time. 3-0 to Xolos. A place in the Final. A place in the Libertadores and a place in next year's Concachampions. Full credit goes to Antonio "Turco" Mohamed. The Argentine coach took over for an in-over-his-head Joaquín Del Olmo after a handful of games last year, saved the club from relegation with relative ease before qualifying for two straight post seasons. Don't think his accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, not just in Mexico but in his native Argentina. Some folks seem to think he might be plucked away from the border to head up none other than River Plate.
But those are just rumors.
For now, he'll have to figure out how to beat Meza and his Red Devils again (they knocked'em off, 1-0 during the season). The first leg will be Thursday night, 9pm CT at the Caliente, and the second is Sunday night at the place they call "el infierno."