León, Tigres red-hot as Liga MX hits home stretch

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Liga MX Leon America

América players check on Nicolás Benedetti after he injured his knee late in the first half against León. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Esmeraldas close in on top seed, Tigres in third

León extended its lead at the top of the Liga MX table with a hard-fought 3-2 win over a short-handed América squad that lost another key player to injury.

The Esmeraldas battled back from a 2-1 deficit, finding the equalizer seconds before halftime and getting the winner from captain Luis Montes just 7 minutes after the restart. The game soon thereafter degenerated into a slugfest with ref César Ramos allowing too much rough stuff that will see most of the players sporting bruises and/or limping around the training ground the rest of the week.

León extended its unbeaten streak to 11 games, but will feel as if the result was closer than it should have been.

América entered the game beat up and battered. Three central defenders are on the injured list and Miguel Herrera was forced to start a midfielder (Santi Cáseres) and a fullback (Luis Reyes) in central defense.

The Aguilas made up for their mismatched line-up with aggressive pressing tactics all over the pitch. León too often failed to recognize the danger, futzing around with possession in midfield or looking for the cute pass, and it nearly cost them.

After Fernando Navarro opened the scoring by taking advantage of the Aguilas’ inexperienced back line, poor defensive technique on the wing allowed América to keep possession and Sebastián Córdova was the beneficiary.

Jean Meneses tried to out-think Aguilas fullback Jorge Sánchez who spun away from the pressure with plenty of time to pick out a target in the box. His long cross soared over the León defense to the back post and an unmarked Córdova easily headed home.

Minutes later, Angel Mena thought he could dribble his way out of trouble and lost the ball inside his own box to Nico Benedetti who found Henry Martín for the easy tap-in. The celebration was muted, however, as Benedetti injured himself on the play. The young Colombian had only returned from February knee surgery last month and he was in tears as he was carted off the pitch.

Mena made up for his bonehead play by finding Meneses on a diagonal run through the neophyte Aguilas back line as León knotted the score in minute 45+3. Mena was the trigger man on the game-winner also as he zig-zagged through the América defense to the touch line before finding Montes for the winner.

León now tops the Liga MX table with 33 points and a 6-point cushion over second-place UNAM. América slipped into fifth place with 25 points and another injury headache.

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