Atlético de San Luis and Santos Laguna held serve in the first-ever Liga MX Play-In Tournament, San Luis claiming the No. 7 seed in the quarterfinals and the Guerreros advancing to a one-game playoff against the Esmeraldas of León for the No. 8 seed.
León was a 3-2 loser at San Luis, falling to the Tuneros in the postseason for the second consecutive season. But with the new Liga MX playoff format, “La Fiera” has one more chance to remain in the chase.
As the No. 8 seed, the Esmeraldas will host No. 9 Santos Laguna – a 2-1 victor over No. 10 Mazatlán FC – on Saturday with the final quarterfinal berth at stake. That’s not much turnaround time for the two clubs who met in Torreón back on Matchday 12.
León won that Oct. 8 contest 2-0, aided by a minute 14 red card shown to Guerreros defender Félix Torres.
Tuneros 3, Esmeraldas 2
This was a reprise of last season’ wildcard match with the Liga MX upstarts – a No. 12 seed – stunning 6th-seeded León 3-1. This time around, San Luis was favored as the Potosinos had routed the Esmeraldas 3-0 in the regular season.
On Thursday night, the Tuneros had taken just one shot by halftime but led 2-1 thanks to a minute 3 own goal by William Tesillo. León had 57.5% possession and fired 10 shots, yet trailed.
San Luis was content to sit back and absorb pressure, attacking on the counter, even after “Plátano” Alvarado had equalized in minute 10. The strategy paid off in minute 26 when Dieter Villalpando fed Juergen Damm just right of the box. Damm cut inside, patiently looked for space then fired a low left-footer that Rodolfo Cota could not keep out of the net.
Sébastien Salles-Lamonge put the hosts ahead 3-1 with 16 minutes to go, but Federico Viñas responded for the visitors just 4 minutes later.
The Tuneros clamped down after that and held León to one shot the rest of the way and booked their spot in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. This is just the fourth playoff appearance for Atlético de San Luis since they joined Liga MX in 2019.
The Tuneros now have a date in the quarterfinals against 2nd-seeded Monterrey.
Santos Laguna 2, Mazatlán FC 1
Juan Brunetta led Liga MX in assists this season but he played goal-scorer on Thursday night, knocking home both goals for the Guerreros.
Brunetta’s game-winner came in minute 70 but was initially annulled for offside but VAR buzzed down to ref Fernando Guerrero to confirm that Harold Preciado was onside before making the cutback pass to Brunetta. This was a reverse of roles as Preciado – top scorer in Liga MX this season – was usually the recipient of Brunetta’s passes.
Mazatlán had offset Brunetta’s early first-half goal with a minute 47 response from midfielder Sergio Flores and the Cañoneros enjoyed the bulk of possession but they managed just two other shots on goal during the contest.
Santos must now pack up quickly and travel to León for Saturday’s final Play-In match with the winner awarded with a quarterfinal match-up against No. 1 seed América.
Elsewhere in Liga MX
One of the league’s coaching vacancies was filled this week when Atlas announced the hiring of Beñat San José, the former head man at Mazatlán FC.
San José, 44, lasted just under two seasons in Liga MX, posting a 7-6-12 record in 25 games in charge of the Cañoneros. He inherits an Atlas team that finished in 17th place with a 4-5-8 with just 14 goals in 17 matches.
Cruz Azul and Toluca are are currently the only clubs still conducting searches for a new manager.