Lower seeds get leg up in second pair of Liga MX quarterfinals

Santos Laguna playmaker Diego Valdés is listening to offers from other Liga MX teams ahead of the winter transfer window. (Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images)
Santos Laguna playmaker Diego Valdés is listening to offers from other Liga MX teams ahead of the winter transfer window. (Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Liguilla 4
Angel Mena (left) and Leon were unable to sustain offensive rhythm as Puebla put on a smothering defensive display in their Liga MX quarterfinal match. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Favorites take their lumps on the road

No. 3 León and No. 4 Tigres lost to lower-seeded rivals by identical 2-1 scores as the Liga MX quarterfinals reached the halfway point with all four series up for grabs.

Fifth-seeded Santos Laguna jumped out to an early lead, victimizing Tigres defender Carlos Salcedo to go up 2-0 after a dozen minutes had been played at Estadio Corona. A second-half André-Pierre Gignac gem provided the Tigres with a lifeline heading into Sunday’s return match.

In minute 4, Diego Valdés beat Salcedo to a sharp cross from Omar Campos and headed home before the fans had settled into their seats. Eight minutes later, Valdés filtered a pass to Eduardo Aguirre who had scooted past a flat-footed Salcedo. “El Mudo” dribbled into the box and slotted the ball past a helpless Nahuel Guzmán.

The game got a bit testy through the remainder of the first half as ref Oscar Macías allowed Tigres fullback Luis Rodríguez to twice undercut a leaping Campos, the first time sending the Santos teenager clattering to the ground in dangerous fashion.

Gignac narrowed the deficit in minute 74, pouncing on a loose ball and sending a cannon shot past a surprised Carlos Acevedo from about 22 meters.

Liga MX minnows snatch late win

It was déjà vu all over again in Puebla in Thursday’s first quarterfinal as the underdog Camoteros handed León a 2-1 loss at Estadio Cuauhtémoc. It was exactly one year ago that “La Franja” defeated the Esmeraldas by that same score, also in a quarterfinals first-leg match.

Last year, León was seeded No. 1 and Puebla, at No. 12, was coming in off a stunning wildcard upset of Monterrey. This year, the Camoteros are No. 7 seeds and they edged past the Chivas in a wildcard penalty kick shoot-out to reach the Liguilla. If memory serves, León recovered from the setback in 2020, beating Puebla 2-0 in the return match and going on to win the Guardianes 2020 title.

Last night, Puebla coach Nicolás Larcamón opted for a defensive line-up and, after initial impressions that he had guessed wrong, the game turned into a battle royale in midfield with the Camoteros landing the best punches.

León got on the board first when defender Stevin Barreiro wheeled around inside the box to thump home a loose ball off a corner kick, but Pablo Parra answered for the home team just 90 seconds later.

León coach Ariel Holan seemed hesitant about changing things up even though “La Fiera” failed to generate much offense into the second half. When the first-year coach finally did make a change, the Esmeraldas suddenly seemed to gain the upper hand.

Then, against the run of play, substitute Fernando Navarro lost the ball in León’s offensive third and Puebla broke out. Gustavo Ferrarais sent a 50-meter diagonal to Maxi Araujo all alone on the left flank. As Araujo advanced (right back Andrés Mosquera had gotten caught out by the turnover), Barreriro gave ground, allowing the Uruguayan to reach the top of the box where Araujo ripped a low shot past Rodolfo Cota.

Next. Liguilla opens with scoreless draws. dark

Puebla’s victory may have been a costly one as leading scorer Christian Tabó left the game with a bad hamstring injury and will likely miss the return match, if not the rest of the playoffs.