Champions Cup semifinals: Poised Pachuca keeps América in check

Visiting Tuzos frustrate high-flying Aguilas attack with impressive defensive display
Pachuca and América played to a stalemate in a Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal match at Estadio Azteca Tuesday night. The two Liga MX clubs will play the decisive second leg next week.
Pachuca and América played to a stalemate in a Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal match at Estadio Azteca Tuesday night. The two Liga MX clubs will play the decisive second leg next week. / ALFREDO ESTRELLA/GettyImages

Pachuca battled América to a 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca Tuesday night, setting the stage for a winner-take-all return match next week.

The two Liga MX sides will complete their Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal series at Estadio Hidalgo on April 30.

América had the better of play most of the first half, and a hustling Alejandro Zendejas took advantage of the first opportunity that presented itself. 

The U.S. international pounced on a loose ball in the box and whistled a los shot past the near post, leaving a startled Carlos Moreno with no chance to react.

The Aguilas created – and squandered – several other scoring chances thereafter; the failure to capitalize would come back to haunt the Liga MX champs. 

The tide would turn after an overly aggressive Zendejas needlessly fouled Nelson Deossa wide right of his own goal. Not only did Zendejas earn a yellow card, but he gave Oussama Idrissi a look at a free kick.

Idrissi lofted a perfectly weighted cross to the back side where Andrés Micolta was first to the ball after eluding Aguilas captain Henry Martín and All-League defender Sebastián Cáceres. The 24-year-old Ecuadorian center-back powered a header past Luis Malagón and the score was even at the 40-minute mark.

For the rest of the half, Pachuca was pressing and trapping farther up the pitch, making every América clearance difficult. 

The Tuzos defense was also orderly in retreat, getting back into a shell to absorb long possessions, frustrating the Aguilas.

Pachuca’s tactical discipline was the story the rest of the match.

Despite perpetually grimacing and gesticulating, Guillermo Almada surely must have been pleased even as he paced the sidelines.

The Tuzos’ tight formation narrowed down passing lanes, forcing América to attack from the perimeter.

“Los Azulcremas” were kept at distance and rarely found room to flow forward on the counterattack.

The Aguilas enjoyed 61% possession, yet managed just four shots on goal. And when they did, the Pachuca netminder was in position to protect his net.

A lunging Moreno protected his back post neatly in minute 53, palming away a curling right-footer from Cristian Calderón.

Ten minutes later, Jonathan dos Santos sizzled a long-distance volley over the crossbar as Moreno could do nothing but crane his neck and pray.

The Tuzos kept América in check, testing their legs with swift counters or effectively playing keep away and making the older Aguilas chase. 

Almada’s youthful charges simply made no critical mistakes. When they did turn the ball over, it was almost always on América’s half of the field.

When América finally created a promising move, Micolta was on the spot to poke away a pass to Valdés who had snuck in on the back side.

One player to keep an eye on ahead of the second leg is Pachuca skipper Gustavo Cabral. The veteran defender left the match in minute 76 with an apparent collarbone injury, the severity of which is not known at this time.

Both teams will now turn their attention to the final Liga MX weekend. Both have clinched playoff spots, but seeding has yet to be determined.


América will visit last-place Puebla with a chance to sew up the No. 1 seed, while Pachuca travels north to take on 13th-place Santos Laguna. The Tuzos could finish as high as 3rd with a win (earning a first-round bye) or as low as low as 9th and be relegated to the Play-In Tournament.