Sly as a Fox: Atlas advances to Liga MX Finals date vs. León

Atlas forward Julian Quiñones was a constant menace for the UNAM defense, but was forced out with an ankle injury in minute 70. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Atlas forward Julian Quiñones was a constant menace for the UNAM defense, but was forced out with an ankle injury in minute 70. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ/AFP via Getty Images) /
Atlas to Finals
Pumas goalie Alfredo Talavera made five saves and kept a clean sheet, but Atlas still managed to advance to the Liga MX Finals.(Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Who had Atlas and León in the Liga MX Final? Me too!

After a 1-0 UNAM win on Sunday, the Atlas-Pumas semifinal series ended 1-1 on aggregate but, as the higher seed, “los Rojinegros” advance to face León. As a result, the Zorros will play in their second-ever final just a season after escaping a 120 million-peso “Relegation Fine.”

At the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Atlas controlled the first half of the return match while executing Diego Cocca’s game plan to perfection. The home team came close to extending their 1-goal lead from the first leg in Mexico City, but Alfredo Talavera could not be beaten (“Tala” had five saves on the night).

The second half was more of the same until UNAM forward Juan Ignacio Dinenno scored in minute 76 to lend drama to the final quarter-hour.

And there was plenty of extended drama thanks to two lengthy forced stoppages due to injury (the first when Dinenno got his nose bloodied, the second when Dinenno kicked Jesús Angulo in the head).

Pumas make big adjustments

Despite needing to win by two goals, UNAM coach Andrés Lillini tried out a new formation only to see Atlas exploit it repeatedly.

Pumas midfielder Erik Lira served as a third central defender on the right side in hopes of freeing up right back Alan Mozo to make more runs down the flank. Instead, the Zorros took advantage of Lira’s absence in midfield to control possession through the middle of the pitch.

Atlas winger Jairo Torres was often the beneficiary of service in the first 45 minutes, but he rarely created any opportunities for teammates, his crosses never reaching their intended target. Forwards Julio Furch and Julián Quiñones were more effective interchanging passes than when they sought to get Torres involved.

Atlas defense almost flawless

Aldo Rocha and Jeremy Márquez again swarmed Pumas players trying to move through the central channels and the Atlas back line constantly cut out passes or anticipated movements, limiting UNAM scoring chances.

When Quiñones asked out in minute 70 (ankle injury), Atlas seemed to drop back a bit and let down its guard. Dinenno made them pay when he was first to react after usually flawless goalie Camilo Vargas spilled a rebound off a long Efraín Velarde shot.

UNAM still needed another goal, pressing forward at every opportunity, almost getting caught too far forward a minute later only for Furch to mishit a low cross at the back post. In minute 81, a careless turnover in their offensive third left the Zorros vulnerable to a Pumas counter. In quick order, Washington Corozo led the break, dropped off a pass and sprinted into the box in search of a Mozo cross. Four players – two from each team – converged on the ball and Dinenno caught the worst of it. The Argentine goleador took a stray elbow to the nose then had the ball ricochet off his face, leaving him a bloody mess.

Dinenno later returned looking like a triage patient and when a soft cross floated into the crowded area, he thought he might try a bicycle kick but instead caught Atlas defender Jesús Angulo flush in the face. Another 4-minute delay.

The clock finally ticked down to 0 and Atlas had survived.

Next. Liga MX Hot Stove League warms up. dark

The Liga MX Final will open in León – the No. 3 seed – on Thursday night and the Gran Final will take place in Estadio Jalisco on Sunday night with second-seeded Atlas playing host.