No. 1 Tuzos salvage draw, cool down Aguilas

Nicolás Ibáñez celebrates after converting a late penalty kick allowing Pachuca to salvage a draw against América in a Liga MX semifinal match. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicolás Ibáñez celebrates after converting a late penalty kick allowing Pachuca to salvage a draw against América in a Liga MX semifinal match. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) /
Liga MX semis Tuzos draw
América let top-seeded Pachuca escape Estadio Azteca with a draw. the Aguilas must now win at Estadio Hidalgo to reach the Liga MX Final. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

After a hard-fought draw at home, América must now do what no other Liga MX club has done this season … go into Estadio Hidalgo and come away with a win.

The fourth-seeded Aguilas played smothering defense for 90 minutes but a late penalty allowed the No. 1 seeded Tuzos to escape Estadio Azteca with a 1-1 draw.

Pachuca is unbeaten at Estadio Hidalgo this season, posting a league-best 9-2-0 record, including a 3-2 victory last Sunday to close out Atlético de San Luis in the Liga MX quarterfinals. The Tuzos enjoyed a 14-5 goal differential at home during the regular season.

As the lower seed, América must outscore Pachuca to reach the Liga MX Final, a tough ask against the league’s stingiest defense. The Tuzos conceded a league-low 15 goals during the Clausura 2022.

Can ‘hottest’ team in Liga MX pull off the upset?

América will feel aggrieved that it didn’t get the win at Fortress Azteca, but they must shake off the disappointment and prepare for another 90-minute war in Pachuca.

On Thursday night in the “Coloso de Santa Úrsula,” the Aguilas suffocated the highest-scoring offense in Liga MX (30 goals goals in 17 games) for large stretches, forcing turnovers in midfield and disrupting Pachuca possessions.

The Tuzos appeared rattled, impatient and back on their heels. Pachuca midfielder Luis Chávez was already having a forgettable game, a very forgettable game, when he mishandled a pass in his own half in minute 54.

Aguilas forward Federico Viñas swooped in, collected the loose ball, charged into the box and blasted a shot that Oscar Ustari batted aside. Unfortunately Diego Valdés was first to the rebound and he chopped it over the flailing goalkeeper for a 1-0 América lead.

Pachuca did not finish atop the Liga MX table without merit (the Tuzos also topped the Playing for 90 Power Rankings) and Guillermo Almada’s men regained their composure and started venturing forward.

In minute 75, Fernando Navarro pounced on a loose ball in midfield, stepped into space in front of América’s back line and threaded a pass into the box for Avilés Hurtado who sidestepped Memo Ochoa before falling down in a heap as the ball rolled out of bounds.

Ref Jorge Pérez Durán whistled a goal kick as Hurtado and his mates screamed for a penalty. After a delay, VAR summoned the beleaguered official to the video screen and the evidence was clear. América defender Jorge Sánchez had clipped Hurtado’s back foot as he chased the ball inside the box.

It was minute 82 when Nico Ibáñez stepped to the spot and converted for the 1-1 draw, setting the stage for Sunday’s return match. The goal was the Argentine striker’s fifth of the playoffs, his first appearance in a Liga MX postseason.

The Aguilas will enter the second leg with their unbeaten streak intact. América is on a 7-4-0 run, last losing on Matchday 9 (a 2-1 loss at Monterrey on March 5).

Next. Atlas takes commanding lead in Liga MX semis. dark

Man of the Match: Despite conceding the penalty kick, Aguilas netminder Memo Ochoa deserves recognition for his performance between the pipes. The El Tri goalie made two sparkling saves, including a remarkable reflex save just before the half, preventing a goal that would have changed the tenor of the match.