Esmeraldas roar past Monterrey to keep dwindling playoff hopes alive

Federico Viñas and Ángel Mena were the goal-scorers for León as 'La Fiera' triumphed 2-0
Ángel Mena (center) sparked León to a big home win over Monterrey to keep the team's Liga MX playoff dreams alive.
Ángel Mena (center) sparked León to a big home win over Monterrey to keep the team's Liga MX playoff dreams alive. / Leopoldo Smith/GettyImages

Esmeraldas remain in Liga MX playoff hunt

León outplayed Monterrey in a must-win game at home, holding the Rayados to just three shots on goal while finding their way past Esteban Andrada twice.

With the 2-0 win, the Esmeraldas pulled even with UNAM and Querétaro in the race for the final Play-In spots, but their poor goal differential might doom them.

Desperate for offense, coach Jorge Bava inserted Ángel Mean into the León starting line-up. The 36-year-old legend had not played more than 45 minutes since Matchday 6; his last goal came back on Jan. 31 when he scored for a third straight game to start the Clausura 2024. 

Since then, nothing. Until today.

Mena's lack of game-fitness was evident early on against Monterrey as he got his pocket picked while dribbling into the half-moon to kill a promising move. He then nearly earned a yellow for getting his elbows up after being stripped by Gerardo Arteaga.

Mena next hit the wrong side of the near post after getting behind the defense in minute 27.  But the Ecuadorian veteran refused to get frustrated.

“La Fiera” had the better of the chances throughout the first, finally capitalizing in minute 39 when Federico Viñas bulled past a defender to slot home his own rebound from a sharp angle. José Alvarado delivered a perfect lead pass that led to Viñas’ initial shot on goal.

Monterrey came out on the front foot after the break – Jordi Cortizo flashed a low left-footer past the far post – and that’s when Mena said “Remember me?”

“El Ángel del gol” stretched just enough to get his right foot on an Adonis Frías through pass and chip the onrushing Andrada. Just like that it was 2-0 for the home side and Monterrey had to start wondering about its priorities.

Mena nearly recorded an assist 10 minutes later, springing Edgar Guerra behind the Monterrey defense but Guerra’s shot clanged off the left post as the clock hit 57.

By the end of his shift, Mena had put in a very respectable 76 minutes.

It was also nice to see Andrés Guardado in the middle of the fray. The long-time El Tri skipper has had a rough first season with León. This was just his third game back after missing seven games with a thigh injury.

“El Principito” had his fingerprints all over the game, pulling the strings in midfield, mixing it up with any Rayado that dared cross his path.

The Esmeraldas can't celebrate anything just yet. Their fate will be impacted by what happens in the next few hours. Their 23 points have them on the cusp of a Play-In spot, but their —4 goal differential will work against them. 

The outcome of the Querétaro (23) at Guadalajara (25) match will go a long way to determine León’s playoff prospects. And later on, UNAM (23) hosts league-leading América. If the Pumas lose as expected … 

As for Monterrey, the Rayados (29 points) have now gone 0-1-2 after starting the season 8-4-0.

The third-place Rayados rested four starters against León, prioritizing their April 23 visit to Columbus for a Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal match. Monterrey was likely confident they could get a result to preserve their favorable seeding heading into the playoffs. They were wrong

The Northern Giants have looked impressive in Concacaf play of late, dismissing Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in the quarterfinals earlier this month, but their Liga MX slump continues.


Now Fernando Ortiz’s men are at risk of finishing outside the Top 4, meaning they’d miss out on home-field advantage top open the Liga MX playoffs. They will visit Necaxa (27 points) in next week's season finale, perhaps needing a road win to save face.