IN THE SECOND HALF of Pachuca's match day 17 fixture at Queretaro (the last one of the regular season), things looked very bleak for the Tuzos. How could they not? They were down 3-0 and the liguiila door was just about to hit them in the ass on their way out. Not how they wanted to end the season. It didn't, of course, after the Tuzos found a way to send 4 balls into the back of Queretaro's nets starting in the 72nd minute. A win and they were in.
A couple of hour later, Leon had done their part to make the post season. Their equation wasn't as simple as Pachuca's, though. Oh, they had to win, but then they had to hope that a host of other teams didn't. A lot of moving parts, a lot of cheerleading, very little probability of everything going just so.
Well, it went just so, and the defending champs punched the 8 seed ticket.
2 weeks later, after dispatching the top 4 seeds in the liguilla, the teams that are owned by the same family (while Carlos Slim has as a 30% stake in both) will play for the right to hoist the Liga MX Apertura 14 trophy. Pachuca belongs to Jesus Martinez, while Leon is run by Jesus Martinez Jr. Gotta love the liguilla.
As an 8 seed, Leon was a lion in sheep's clothing. Despite being defending champs, the local league was put on the back burner, as the Emeralds dedicated their resources and attention to the Libertaodres, in which they progressed to the 2nd round. Unfortunately for Leon, they drew Bolivar, the team they could not beat in the group stage, and as it turns out, the round of 16 as well.
They did have the local league, though, to salvage their season. They had spent the better part of it hovering around the cut line while relying on split squads and even their B team at times. But without the Libertadores to worry about, the Liguilla was going to see Leon at full strength.
At full strength, La Fiera came back from 2 goals down to topple the top seed, Cruz Azul in the quarters, and at full strength, they dominated the 2 seed, Toluca, in the semis. The 2-0 scoreline was not an indication of how thoroughly they dominated the Red Devils.
Leon will now try to become the first team team to repeat as champions for the first time in 10 years, when Pumas became the first and only team to win back-to-back titles in the short season era.
Standing in their way is Pachuca, who narrowly escaped their semi-final tie with Santos despite taking a 4-1 lead on aggregate. Perhaps it was Pachuca's inexperience in managing the lead that led to a near catastrophic meltdown. Santos scored 3 late goals to level things up, but they needed 4 to go through. The plucky young Tuzos have been the hot team in the liguilla, but sometimes it helps to be lucky too. They drew a Pumas team that had been decimated by injuries. And in the semis, Santos hit the woodwork 5 times over 2 games. Will the combination of youth, luck, and the torrid Liga MX scoring champ, Enner Valencia, be the formula that conjures up another short season title fr Pachuca?
They have their work cut out for them. Leon has gotten stronger as they have moved through the post season, taking out the two top seeds along the way. Their defense is stronger than both Pumas and Santos, and Leon's midfield is the best in the league - the same midfield that will likely be taking the field vs Cameroon in June.
It will be Leon lifting the trophy Sunday night at Pachuca.