No. 1 seed Monterrey disposed of 12th-seeded Santos Laguna, completing 180 minutes of shutout ball to advance to the Liga MX semifinals.
The Rayados struck early then survived 40 minutes of intense pressure from the visiting Guerreros, but tightened up the defense in the second half to walk off with a 2-0 victory.
Rogelio Funes Mori scored 3 minutes after kickoff, benefiting from a swervy charge forward by fullback John Stefan Medina who eluded several Santos tacklers before dropping off wide right to Maxi Meza. Meza’s was blocked on the back side but it deflected right to Monterrey’s top score and Funes Mori made no mistake, stirring up the raucous crowd.
Meza fired the clincher past Santos skipper Carlos Acevedo in minute 68 after gathering in a pretty diagonal long ball from sub Omar Govea. Meza had time to volley low and hard inside the far post from a sharp angle thanks to a screen in the box by teammate Héctor Moreno.
VAR deprives Santos of equalizer
Just 7 minutes after Funes Mori’s opener, defender Matheus Doria thought he had tied things up.
Santos controlled a weak clearance from its own corner kick, switched possession to the far side where Alan Cervantes had time and space to zip a low cross into the box. Doria raced into the box and poked it toward net but Monterrey goalie Esteban Andrada deflected the shot. The rebound came right back toward the Santos defender and, while still on the ground, Doria flicked the loose ball into the back of the net.
After a brief delay, VAR notified ref Oscar Macías that Doria was offside. If he was, it was by mere millimeters.
Santos players did not allow the disappointment to deflate either their attitude or their posture and “los laguneros” continued to buzz around the Monterrey area.
The underdog Guerreros pressed the attack and had Monterrey on its heels much of the first half. The Rayados were sloppy with possession in midfield and Santos was quick to pressure the ball, preventing the favorites from generating much offense.
Besides the VAR decision going against Santos, the Guerreros had a legitimate plea for a penalty in the first half but left back Jesús Gallardo got away with a shove in the back inside the box.
As it is, Monterrey’s defense saved the day, holding Santos to 3 shots on net and limiting good looks at goal throughout the second half.
No doubt, coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich will continue to tinker with his line-up in hopes of rediscovering the smooth-flowing offense that powered the club’s 12-game unbeaten streak.
América avoids historic collapse
If No. 1 Monterrey’s performance raised a red flag or two, No. 2 América’s waltz to the final nearly took a bad turn.
No. 11 Atlético de San Luis overturned their 2-goal deficit in the first 31 minutes and had América fans on the edge of their seats until sub Brian Rodríguez clinched the Aguilas’ semifinal spot with a hustle goal in minute 86.
The visiting Tuneros swrmed all over their hosts, never allowing the league’s most powerful offense from getting untracked, then took advantage of lax marking to ripple the net twice and erase the 3-1 first-leg deficit.
In minute 18, América fell asleep on a corner kick and an unmarked Unai Bilbao powered home a header from just above the penalty spot. Luis Fuentes and Sebastián Cáceres had both moved to cover same man, laving Bilbao all alone.
Thirteen minutes later, Aguilas captain Miguel Layún left his man on the back side to protect the goal crease but a perfect cross from Ricardo Chávez found Leo Bonatini – Layún’s man – and it was 2-0 San Luis.
Atleti still had to score once more – aggregate draws go to the higher seed – and they threatened more than once before halftime.
The underdogs were still on the front foot in the second half but began to run out of energy after the hour mark. Passes were off the mark, spacing was harder to maintain.
Even so, San Luis created a few more scoring chances but América had its share as well. The Aguilas were able to attack more vertically, firing shots at Andrés Sánchez. The 25-year-old goalie put on a show – he made 10 saves in all – increasing the tension in Estadio Azteca, América fans voicing their impatience.
In minute 88, Sánchez made a diving save of a Diego Valdés rocket but left a bad rebound and Rodríguez was first onto the scene, his shot bulging the back of the net.
Delirium masked the discernible sense of relief as the Aguilas avoided a historic collapse (only once before had a team that finished 12th in the table reached the semifinals and that came back in 1978, ironically América was the victim then).
“Los Azulcremas” will have to wait and see where they’ll travel midweek (as the No. 2 seed, we know the return leg will be played in Estadio Azteca next weekend). If Guadalajara can overcome a 1-0 deficit, we’ll have a “Super Clásico” in the semifinals.