Opportunistic Diablos Rojos clip Aguilas’ wings

Toluca's Jean Meneses (left) was a constant pest, drawing a penalty in the first half and nearly converting a breakaway in the second. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Toluca's Jean Meneses (left) was a constant pest, drawing a penalty in the first half and nearly converting a breakaway in the second. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX semi 2
Toluca’s Leo Fernández strides into a first-half penalty kick in Wednesday night’s Liga MX semifinal. The Diablos Rojos defeated No. 1 seeded América 2-1. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

Toluca pounced on two early América mistakes then held on for a dramatic 2-1 victory in the first leg of their Liga MX semifinal series.

The sixth-seeded Diablos Rojos nearly went up 3-0 in minute 54 only to see Camilo Sanvezzo’s breakaway goal annulled for offside. Tiago Volpi made a huge save in minute 90+5 and defender Valber Huerta knocked away a follow-up effort from close range to preserve the advantage.

The loss ended top-seeded América’s 14-game unbeaten streak, momentarily denting their aura of invincibility.

The return match is scheduled for Saturday night at Estadio Azteca. Toluca needs a draw to reach the Liga MX Final. An Aguilas victory by any margin will send them to the final because, as the higher seed, they advance with an aggregate draw.

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América came into Estadio Nemesio Díez as heavy favorites and smothered the hosts in the opening minutes.

In minute 10, midfielder Diego Valdés corralled a loose Carlos Guzmán pass and headed into the box with Henry Martín breaking free into the center of the box. Valdés chose to shoot himself but chunked it wide.

Twelve minutes later, Leo Fernández sent a long free kick into the box and Aguilas goalie Memo Ochoa fumbled the ball in a crowd. Diablos defender Haret Ortega – an América product – knocked home the loose ball. It was Ortega’s first goal of the season.

“Los Choriceros” dropped back on defense and the Aguilas pressed forward, unable to get a look at goal. In minute 40, Emilio Lara badly scuffed a back pass and when Jean Meneses scurried around him, the rookie defender pulled the Chilean winger to the ground for a penalty.

Fernández converted the spot kick and the hosts took the 2-0 lead into the locker room.

Nine minutes after the restart, the Diablos appeared to extend their lead. Carlos González headed a long clearance that defender Sebastián Cáceres brought down but Sanvezzo stripped him and broke in alone on Ochoa, slotting home inside the left post.

Toluca’s celebration was cut short when VAR alerted ref Marco Antonio Ortiz that Sanvezzo was offside.

To expect the Diablos Rojos to shut down the top-scoring team in Liga MX was a bit much, but Volpi seemed up to the task. The Brazilian keeper – eager to get to his second Liga MX Final (he led Querétaro to the Clausura 2015 Final) – made a sparkling save off a Brian Rodríguez shot in minute 77.

Two minutes later, Lara atoned for his first-half boner, banging home a sweet assist by Henry Martín as the Diablos Rojos defense fell asleep.

Late in the match, Martín smacked Volpi in the head with a karate kick as the pair were chasing a long cross but ref Ortiz didn’t give it a second look. And VAR evidently didn’t feel a need to order a review, but the foul appeared worthy of at least a yellow card.

It was then that Volpi punched out a Roger Martínez free kick and the hustling Huerta smothered Fidalgo’s last-gasp attempt.

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The Liga MX semifinals continue Thursday night with No. 2 Monterrey visiting No. 4 Pachuca. Monterrey was the second-best road team in Liga MX (5-2-2), while the Tuzos boast the third-best home record in Liga MX (6-2-1).