Top-seeded América on Wednesday twice erased one-goal deficits to earn a draw against León, while No. 2 Monterrey came up empty at Atlético de San Luis, falling 1-0 in the first legs of their respective quarterfinal series.
The Liguilla continues Thursday with No. 3 Tigres visiting No. 6 Puebla followed by a Guadalajara-UNAM clash pitting the No. 5 seed against the No. 4 seed.
At the Camp Nou in León, defender Paul Bellón put the home side ahead just 60 seconds in, powering a header into the top right corner off an Ángel Meta corner kick.
The Aguilas nearly tied it up in minute 5 when Alex Zendejas beat an offside trap to get in alone on Rodolfo Cota, but the Esmeraldas goalie raced way off his line to make a brilliant stop at the edge of box. Trailing the play, Henry Martín mishit the rebound, spinning it over the crossbar.
Martín made amends a minute later, poking home a lovely Miguel Layún cross at the back post. VAR took a look to see if the América captain was offside – it was really close – but allowed the goal to stand.
In minute 39, Omar Fernández sprung winger Nicolás “Diente” López right down the middle behind the Aguilas defense. “Diente” chased down the pass and chipped over the late-to-react Malagon and “La Fiera” led 2-1 heading into the break.
The favored “AzulCremas” did not wait too long to equalize.
Julián Quiñones lobbed a pass to Martín in the box, and the captain dropped it off to Diego Valdés on the left. Valdés – just back after missing five games with a thigh strain – squared a pass to Quiñones whose left-footed blast was blocked by Cota. Quiñones collected the rebound and fired again but Bellón denied him on the line. The ball then ricocheted off Cota to Henry who slotted past three León defenders at the opposite post.
After a frenetic first 60 minutes, América started to exert control as León began to sag. The final half hour was a slog for the Esmeraldas. They had trouble carrying out of their zone let alone generating any offense.
Wednesday’s game was León’s third in seven days, while it was América’s first game in 19 days. “La Fiera” managed to hold on for the tie with Cota’s 4 saves leading the way.
While Valdés managed to provide 60 minutes of solid play in his first game back since Oct. 7, América fans will be holding their breath to find out what is ailing Quiñones who asked out of the match with 5 minutes remaining.
The return match will be played at Estadio Azteca on Saturday night. León must win to advance to the semifinals while América can reach the Final Four with a draw or a win.
Atlético de San Luis 1, Monterrey 0
Over in San Luis Potosí, the Tuneros grabbed the lead in minute 21 and preserved the advantage for the rest of the night.
The hosts played with poise and confidence throughout while the higher-seeded Rayados looked patient though perhaps a bit too cautious. Although Monterrey managed to get off 16 shots, only 4 were on target and none required superhuman effort from San Luis netminder Andrés Sánchez.
At the other end of the pitch, Monterrey goalie Esteban Andrade was called upon to make quite a few athletic saves. At the quarter-hour mark, Tuneros winger Juergen Damm escaped down the right flank, cut inside his marker deep in the box and let fly with a left-footer that Andrade parried aside.
A few minutes later, Atleti had the lead. Juan Manuel Sarabia fired a low free kick from the right flank that Damm back-heeled at the near post. The ball caromed to an unmarked Ricardo Chávez who scissored a volley into the net from just above the penalty spot.
The 2nd-seeded Rayados showed some life just before halftime, exerting some sustained pressure and then got a gift from Unai Bilbao that led to a point-blank opportunity for first half sub Rogelio Funes Mori, but the Mexico striker could not get a shot off.
Andrade made two huge saves in the first 15 minutes after the restart and former Tuneros star Germán Berterame – booed all game by the Alfonso Lastras crowd –saw a goal annulled when he was rightfully deemed offside by VAR.
Andrada made one more giant save to minimize the damage on the night. Monterrey will host San Luis on Saturday knowing it must win by at least one goal to stay alive while the Tuneros can pull off the upset with a draw or a win at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer.