After going down to 10 men, León nearly squanders 3-0 lead

Federico Viñas celebrates after scoring León's third goal during Sunday's Liga MX Play-In match against Santos Laguna. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)
Federico Viñas celebrates after scoring León's third goal during Sunday's Liga MX Play-In match against Santos Laguna. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Play-in Leon-Santos
León kept Juan Brunetta (center) – the top playmaker in Liga MX – in check and held on for a 3-2 win over Santos Laguna. (Photo by Luis Cano/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Ten-man León survived a frantic 13 minutes of stoppage time and advanced to the quarterfinals on the back of a 3-2 victory over Santos Laguna to close out the first-ever Liga MX Play-In tournament.

The host Esmeraldas were comfortably ahead 3-0 and appeared to be cruising past the Guerreros until midfielder Fidel Ambriz was shown a second yellow card in minute 53. “Los Laguneros” immediately took control of the game, moving forward in waves and peppering Rodolfo Cota with shots.

Alan Cervantes got Santos on the scoreboard in minute 72 and Harold Preciado – top scorer in Liga MX with 11 goals – narrowed the deficit to a single goal 11 minutes later. The Guerreros let fly with nine more shots but could not find the equalizer and a scrambling León side celebrated when the whistle finally blew.

With the victory, “La Fiera” booked a spot in the Liguilla where they will face No. 1 seed América in a two-game series, the first game at the Camp Now in midweek with the second-leg at Estadio Azteca this coming weekend.

Top eight seeds make it to Liga MX quarterfinals

After coming up short against Atlético de San Luis in the first round of the Play-In tourney, León started out on the front foot against Santos (a 2-1 winner over Mazatlán FC on Thursday).

The Esmeraldas dominated the ball in the first half (58% possession) and pinned back a Santos Laguna defense that had conceded the most goals in Liga MX this season (34).

The hosts went into the break with a 2-0 lead – defender Adonis Frías (21′) off a corner kick and Fidel Ambriz with a 35-meter golazo – and added to their tally just 3 minutes after the restart when Federico Viñas chased down a long William Tesillo pass and fired a low shot past Carlos Acevedo at the near post.

Five minutes later, Ambriz was sent to the showers and the field dramatically tilted in the other direction. In front of a nervous Camp Nou crowd, an increasingly wobbly León side managed to stagger to the finish line.

Liga MX news and notes

The Liga MX quarterfinals are now set. In addition to the América-León series, No. 2 Monterrey will face No. 7 Atlético de San Luis, No. 3 Tigres will take on No. 6 Puebla with No. 4 UNAM and No. 5 Guadalajara paired up in the final series.

Juan Brunetta has apparently played his last game for Santos Laguna. Reports indicate the 26-year-old playmaker – the top assist man in Liga MX this season with 11 helpers – signed a contract with Tigres. The Argentine midfielder scored both goals against Mazatlán FC in the first round of the Play-In Tournament but was kept off the scorebook by León.

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For the past several weeks, rumors circulated that Martín Anselmi would be the next coach at Cruz Azul but the 38-year-old Argentine said on Sunday that he was more than content at Independiente del Valle in Ecuador’s Serie A. Independiente will be playing for the league championship against LDU Quito next month.