Santos, América boost Liga MX bragging rights

Juan Otero (No. 7) scored the only goal for Santos Laguna against Orlando SC in their Leagues Cup match. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Juan Otero (No. 7) scored the only goal for Santos Laguna against Orlando SC in their Leagues Cup match. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images) /
Liga MX, MLS bragging rights
Emanuel Aguilera fires home from the penalty spot in minute 80 to give América a 2-0 lead in their Concachampions semifinal against Philadelphia Union. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Santos Laguna outlasted Orlando City SC on Thursday night to become the third Liga MX team to reach the semifinals of the Leagues Cup, joining León, UNAM and MLS club Seattle Sounders in the Final Four of the No. 2 regional club tournament.

The semifinal round will take place on Sept. 14 with Santos Laguna facing Seattle, while León and the Pumas square off in the other side of the bracket.

In Mexico City, América snared a 2-0 advantage over the Philadelphia Union in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals.

The Aguilas will try to hold onto that lead in the second leg of the series when the two clubs meet again in Pennsylvania on Sept. 15. The Union must win by at least two goals to prevent yet another all-Liga MX final in the Champions League.

Liga MX salves wound left by El Tri debacle

In Florida, Guerreros coach Guillermo Almada showed faith in his back-ups and they rewarded his trust with a solid defensive performance.

The Santos manager opened with only five starters but they carried out the game plan quite effectively, limiting Orlando – sitting second in the MLS’ Eastern Conference – to just two shots on goal.

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Winger Juan Otero – one of the five regulars in the starting line-up – got the only goal of the game and the gritty Guerreros made the tally stand up. Diego Valdés – another starter – fed the Colombia winger with space wide left and Otero cut inside and let fly from 28 meters with a low skimmer that Mason Stajduhar could not keep out at the near post.

The game got physical during the second half as Santos sought to frustrate the hosts and it worked as Orlando players wasted time and energy arguing with the referee.

Santos – last season’s Liga MX runner-up – returns home for a brief rest before hosting the Chivas on Sunday, while Orlando’s next test is a visit to Nashville on Aug. 18.

Aguilas draw first blood in Concachampions

At Estadio Azteca, América benefited from a deflection and a late penalty call to steal a 2-0 lead against a feisty Philly squad. The Aguilas are the winningest franchise in Concachampions history but they had trouble against a Union side that was in its first-ever international tournament.

In minute 17, Sebastián Córdova – in his first game back since earning bronze with El Tri at the Olympics – fired a free kick from 22 meters. It rebounded off the Philly wall right to Richard Sánchez lined up next to Córdova. Sánchez thumped a shot that deflected off Daniel Gazdag. The ricochet wrong-footed goalie Andre Blake and América led 1-0.

The Liga MX powerhouse dominated possession for long stretches of the match, but Blake was up to the task, making three big first-half saves.

It appeared that the Union would return home with a minimal deficit until a turnover in its own defensive third with 10 minutes remaining. Alvaro Fidalgo dribbled into the box then cut a square pass to Sánchez who sidestepped one defender before José Martínez’s zealous tackle took out the Paraguayan’s back foot.

Ref Walter López could be seen reaching for his whistle but decided against making a decision. However, at the next stoppage, the VAR official called down and López made the call after reviewing the video. Ema Aguilera converted the spot kick and the Aguilas were up 2-0.

As the clock ticked past 90, Philly striker Cory Burke went down in the box after contact from Aguilera, but López dismissed the vociferous complaints by Union players. VAR took a look at the play too, but determined the contact was not a foul (it wasn’t), but that did little to assuage the MLS team.

Next. MLS, Liga MX square off. dark

Philly returns to MLS play on Wednesday with a visit from NYCFC while América pays a visit to Atlas on Sunday in its next Liga MX contest.