Champs remain in first after surviving challenge from feisty León

Javier "Chofis" López gets a pat on the head from Avilés Hurtado after scoring against León. Thge Liga MX champs defeated the Esmeraldas 1-0. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)
Javier "Chofis" López gets a pat on the head from Avilés Hurtado after scoring against León. Thge Liga MX champs defeated the Esmeraldas 1-0. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M5 second
Ref Diego Montaño hears it from Santos Laguna players after yet another call made in América’s favor. The Guerreros and Aguilas played to a 2-2 in a Saturday night Liga MX match. (Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images) /

Defending champion Pachuca survived a tough test in León on Saturday to remain atop the Liga MX table while Tigres moved into second with an efficient 1-0 win at Cruz Azul.

Also Saturday, Santos Laguna held onto fourth place after a testy 2-2 draw against visiting América who remain unbeaten (1-4-0).

At the Camp Nou, a scrappy León side battled the Tuzos for 90 minutes despite going a man down just before the half. The Liga MX champs scored in minute 28 (“Chofis” López did the honors) but were forced to scramble to defend their advantage even after the Esmeraldas went down a man.

The Tuzos were also reduced to 10 men in minute 68 but survived an all-out assault over the ensuring 32 minutes minutes (yes, 32 minutes; 10 minutes of stoppage time were added) as Oscar Ustari came up with several big saves to hold down the fort.

Cruz Azul slump continues

The Cementeros went toe-to-toe with the heavy title favorites but continue to set franchise standards for futility. You have to go back to the Apertura 2004 to find a worse start for “La Máquina Azul.”

If not for a terrible Mazatlán FC team, Cruz Azul would be in the Liga MX cellar. The Cementeros limited Tigres to 10 shots while creating numerous scoring chances of their own, but simply could not get shots on target (of 17 shots, only 3 were on net).

In minute 41, a Tigres counterattack resulted in a goal because the Cementeros midfield failed to track all the way back and mark Guido Pizarro who powered home a header from inside the box.

Cruz Azul awaits further bad news this week. Newly acquired defender Carlos Vargas was carted off the Estadio Azteca pitch only 16 minutes into his Cementeros debut. All indications are that it is a serious knee injury.

América steals a point

The contest at Estadio Corona is the kind of game that fuels the Televisa-América conspiracy so popular among the fan bases of the other 17 Liga MX teams.

The Aguilas scored the equalizer in minute 84 after the ref whistled a non-existent foul just outside the box. In the first half, the officiating crew spent a full 2 minutes studying replays after Santos Laguna’s first goal when there was not a single thing resembling an infraction. It was as if the VAR was desperately searching for a way to favor América and nullify the goal.

Just before the half, the Aguilas cut the deficit to 2-1 on a Henry Martin penalty kick. On the conversion, Álvaro Fidalgo was a good 12 feet inside the box before Martín took the shot, but the ref ignored the violation, allowing the goal to stand.

In minute 90, VAR took a harsh view of a foul and the referee converted the yellow card he’d shown into a red card, then added 9 minutes of stoppage time, but the Aguilas were unable to take advantage and the game ended 2-2.

Mediocre officiating still a Liga MX curse

In León, Guillermo Pacheco called the first half of the Esmeraldas-Tuzos match as if it were a rugby match. The collisions and tackles produced howls of protest.

The young ref then decided to crack down in the second half. The inconsistency confused both teams who suddenly were being called for tacky-tack fouls.

Both ejections were questionable – one for each team – and both resulted from VAR consultations. Still, the poor performance did not directly influence the outcome of the match.

Veteran Liga MX ref Luis Enrique Santander was the culprit in the Cruz Azul-Tigres match. Santander acted as if he had to wear his uniform for an important appointment immediately after the game often strolling around the field as if he were trying not to sweat.

There were a number of key plays in which Santander was nowhere near the action and the camera had to pan outward to include him in the frame as he strolled around the pitch.

Matchday 5 continues …

The Liga MX Sunday calendar offers up another triple-header.

Next. Atlético de San Luis rises while Mazatlán FC sinks. dark

Atlas visits UNAM at noon, the Chivas host Querétaro at 5 p.m. and in the nightcap, Liga MX co-favorite Monterrey welcomes Toluca, runner-up in last season’s Liga MX Final.