Diego Lainez fed Sebastián Córdova for the lone goal to help Tigres become the lone Liga MX favorite to win on a wacky Wildcard Weekend.
The two Olympic bronze medalists teamed up early in the second half with Lainez delivering his first assist of the season, finding Córdova inside the box with space to turn toward goal and Córdova’s left-footed blast was too much for Puebla goalie Antony Silva to handle.
Tigres had several other chances to put the game away – and saw a goal annulled in minute 82 – but Silva came up with 8 saves while “La Franja” managed only two shots on net in the 1-0 Camoteros loss.
The 7th-seeded Tigres advance to the Liga MX quarterfinal round where they’ll face No. 4 Toluca while Puebla – the No. 10 seed – will lament a missed penalty kick by Diego de Buen in minute 74 after an unnecessarily long delay.
Best defense in Liga MX picked wrong day for its worst game
Earlier Sunday, 11th-seeded Atlético de San Luis upset sixth-seeded León, scoring three times in the first half to overcome an early Esmeraldas goal.
With the win, the Tuneros became the third straight underdog to knock off a higher seed on Liga MX Wildcard Weekend. On Saturday, No. 9 Atlas edged No. 8 Cruz Azul 1-0 in a mild upset while 12th-seeded Santos Laguna shocked defending Liga MX champions Pachuca, the No. 5 seed.
San Luis advances to a Liga MX quarterfinal match-up against No. 2 América, while León must now look for friendly matches and exhibition games to prepare for the Concacaf Champions League final against LAFC which takes place on May 31 and June 4.
León conceded three first-half goals after allowing just 13 goals all season and defensive mistakes contributed to all three San Luis goals.
Just 3 minutes after Víctor Dávila had given the Esmeraldas a 1-0 lead with a nifty strike, Adonis Frías coughed up a ball just outside the León box that provided Leo Bonatini a walk-in goal.
The gaffe took the wind out of the Esmeraldas’ sails and deflated the rowdy Camp Nou crowd. Still, León pressed forward and buzzed around the Tuneros box but could not figure out the San Luis defense. “La Fiera” saw seven shots blocked by defenders in the first half.
In minute 33, San Luis broke forward down the right side and León’s defense fell back in good order. Unfortunately, no one picked up the trailing Javier Guemez – an egregious mistake for a team that led Liga MX in shut-outs (9) – and the midfielder collected a neat pass from Vitinho and calmly slotted home inside the near post.
Green-clad shoulders slumped and the dejection was latent, but it would get worse.
Moments before the halftime whistle, León right back Iván Moreno botched a clearance and teammate Angel Mena was caught napping, failing to come back to help on the play.
Juan Manuel Sanabria beat Mena to the ball on the left flank and poked it back toward the box just as the Esmeraldas defense was trying to push up the field. Vitinho gathered in the pass, turned and found himself alone on goal. The Brazilian chipped a left-footer over a helpless Rodolfo Cota and it was 3-1 Tuneros.
Try as they might, the Esmeraldas could not find the necessary answers in the second half. After three high-stakes games against Tigres, León lacked energy and seemed emotionally drained, and team-wide desperation grew.
León forced passes in the second half, tried the long ball too often, and watched as dozens of centering passes and crosses were cleared by a well-positioned San Luis defense.
When the Esmeraldas did create an opportunity, back-up goalie Andrés Sánchez was in the right place. Sánchez only played in one game all season – a 3-1 loss at UNAM on Matchday 14 – but he came up with seven big saves to keep “La Fiera” at bay.
Unlike the wildcard round – single-elimination games – the Liga MX quarterfinals are a home-and-home series with the return leg hosted by the higher seed. The first-leg matches will take place on Wednesday and Thursday with the four semifinalists being decided on the weekend.