Toluca follows Saturday fireworks with hard-fought win over Tigres

Carlos Gonzalez reacts after putting Toluca ahead 3-0, but a ferocious Tigres comeback fell just short and the Diablos Rojos climbed into second place on the Liga MX table. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Carlos Gonzalez reacts after putting Toluca ahead 3-0, but a ferocious Tigres comeback fell just short and the Diablos Rojos climbed into second place on the Liga MX table. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /
Liga MX M13 final
Fernando Hernández brandishes a yellow card during Saturday night’s América-León match, but he might get shown a red card of his own as Liga MX authorities are investigating an apparent knee to the groin the official delivered to a León player. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

A day after fireworks, red cards and a “Clásico Tapatío” for the ages, Tigres went down to a third straight defeat, denting their chances of claiming a first-round bye in the Liga MX playoffs.

Toluca took advantage of an early Luis Quiñones dismissal to build a 3-0 lead but a scrappy Tigres fightback nearly left the Diablos Rojos red-faced though Ignacio Ambriz’s men escaped with a 3-2 win.

With that result, “Los Choriceros” climbed back into second place (25 points) while Tigres slipped a spot into seventh (21 points).

The Northern giants are just 3 points out of fourth place – and the final first-round bye – but there are three teams in the way: América (24 points), Pachuca (22) and the Chivas (22).

Saturday pyrotechnics

The two leading candidates for Liga MX Game of the Year came back-to-back last night.

First, León battled América to a 2-2 draw in a fierce contest that saw both head coaches sent to the showers, three goals overturned and a León player take a knee to the groin … from the referee!

That game was followed by frenetic 3-3 finish in the 288th Guadalajara derby as host Atlas twice erased deficits, fighting back from 2-0 down after 31 minutes (equalizing just before halftime), then matching an early second-half goal by the Chivas after which the two rivals exchanged haymakers that required both Camilo Vargas and Miguel Jiménez to make spectacular saves.

At Estadio Azteca, a streaking León side (6-3-0 in their last nine games) dominated the mighty “Azulcremas” through the first 45 minutes, outshooting their hosts 17-1. However, the Esmeraldas only had a 1-0 lead to show for it (and each team had a goal annulled).

The second half started off chippy, as “La Fiera” fought to protect the lead. That disappeared in minute 63, however, when Diego Valdés found a loose ball after a goal-mouth scramble and banged it into the net.

León players screamed for a hand ball and while ref Fernando Hernández waited for VAR to make a decision, Valdés got into a shoving match with Stiven Barreiro.

A Liga MX first

With some players skirmishing and others swarming around Hernández, the ref showed a yellow card to Barreiro first, then Valdés. Confronted by León’s Lucas Romero who was questioning the arbitration, Hernández appeared to knee the Esmeraldas midfielder in the groin and Romero dropped to the ground.

The melee continued for another few minutes as the officials tried to sort things out – while the announcers voiced shock at what we’d all just witnessed, speculating about the suspension Hernández is sure to face – but the game resumed after the Valdés goal was confirmed.

A Henry Martín header off a nifty cross from Alejandro Zendejas put América ahead in minute 68 (Martín leads all Liga MX scorers with 12 goals) and the momentum shifted dramatically … but only for a few minutes.

Four minutes later, a hard tackle from behind by América sub Richard Sánchez led to another donnybrook that featured a serious altercation between the head coaches that resulted in red cards.

Aguilas boss Fernando Ortiz headed straight to the showers while León Nicolás Larcamón – his T-shirt torn in the tussle – pleaded his case with the fourth official. He then started jogging after Ortiz which led Jonathan Rodríguez to race of the Aguilas bench to grab hold of Larcamón and prevent him from blind-siding Ortiz. But Ortiz was gesturing at Larcamón, indicating he’d meet him outside the locker rooms.

The game continued at a hectic pace and Esmeraldas keeper Rodolfo Cota made three big-time saves to keep León in the match, and América would be made to regret their profligacy.

Four minutes into stoppage time, sub Néstor Araujo guessed wrong on defense and Joel Campbell collected an Adonis Frías pass at the top of the box, turned quickly and let fly with a left-footer that zipped past Luis Malagón and into the side netting at the far post.

The 2-2 final keeps León (25 points) one spot ahead of the fourth-place Aguilas (24 points) and allowed Toluca to leapfrog both into second place thanks to their triumph over Tigres on Sunday.

Chivas, Atlas turn in an Instant Classic

Liga MX M13 final
Julián Quiñones gestures to Chivas fans after scoring his first of two goals, cutting Atlas’ deficit in half. The Clásico Tapatío ended 3-3. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The “Clásico Tapatío” used to be a one-sided affair, but since Atlas’ recent return to prominence (including back-to-back Liga MX titles for the Zorros) “los Rojinegros” have been getting the best of the Chivas who were on a six-game win streak in the Guadalajara derby after their Clausura 2021 clash.

“El Rebaño Sagrado” has not beaten Atlas since, losing to the Zorros twice and settling for four ties, including Saturday night at a sold-out Estadio Jalisco.

With Atlas struggling this season and Guadalajara in the running for a Top 4 seeding, Chivas Nation was expecting a “W.” And after Carlos Cisneros sprang Roberto Alvarado free for a 4th-minute goal then found the net in minute 31, visiting “Goats” fans were in full throat.

Quickly, the peripatetic Julián Quiñones slotted home and the roars emanated from the other side of the stadium, reaching a crescendo just before the half when Jonathan Herrera equalized off a corner kick.

The second half saw a very entertaining end-to-end free-for-all, punctuated by an Alexis Vega goal in minute 55 (his first since returning from a Week 2 knee injury) and another one from the ever-opportunistic Quiñones just 2 minutes later.

Action veered from one side of the pitch to the other, with 41 shots taken in all – each with 11 on target and both goalies adding 8 saves to their stat sheets.

The 3-3 result keeps the Chivas in sixth place (22 points) and lifted Atlas into 11th (13 points), the Zorros now very much alive in the wildcard race.

Elsewhere in Liga MX

Monterrey now has the No. 1 playoff seed in a death grip as the Rayados (34 points) pounded visiting Tijuana 4-0 to extend their lead atop the Liga MX table to 9 points.

Rodrigo Aguirre (5’, 22’) and Germán Berterame (32’, 76’) had bookend braces to guide the league-leaders to a comfortable win while pushing their unbeaten streak to 12 games (11-1-0).

Monterrey secured its postseason invitation before the FIFA break and can clinch the top seed at América next Saturday in a match that pits the two highest-scoring teams in Liga MX. The Aguilas lead the way with 29 goals, while the red-hot Rayados are tied with Toluca at 27 while also leading Liga MX in fewest goals allowed (9).

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Earlier Saturday, Cruz Azul stunned reigning Liga MX champs Pachuca, handing the Tuzos a 2-0 home defeat despite being outplayed virtually the entire contest. The Cementeros are suddenly a legitimate playoff team (eighth place with 20 points), while Pachuca lost its third straight at Estadio Hidalgo, remaining in fifth place (22 points).