Profligate Pachuca squanders early opportunities, settles for draw against champs

Liga MX quarterfinals: Top-seeded Aguilas, No. 8 Tuzos to settle series at Estadio Azteca on Saturday
Pachuca's Jorge Berlanga can only watch as América captain Henry Martín heads home the tying goal just before halftime in the first leg of their Liga MX quarterfinal series.
Pachuca's Jorge Berlanga can only watch as América captain Henry Martín heads home the tying goal just before halftime in the first leg of their Liga MX quarterfinal series. / Jam Media/GettyImages

América survived an opening round uppercut, and Pachuca will be haunted by flubbing a pair chances to add to Salomón Rondón’s early goal.

After 90 rugged minutes of futbol, the Aguilas and Tuzos are all even at 1-1 ahead of Sunday’s second leg at Estadio Azteca.

The defending Liga MX champs had talked loudly about wanting this rematch after Pachuca bounced them from the Concacaf Champions Cup – be careful what you wish for … – but the top-seeded Aguilas were lucky to escape Estadio Hidalgo with the draw.

Coach André Jardine will now have to fret about the fitness of playmaker Diego Valdés who hobbled off the pitch late on, clutching at his troublesome right hamstring.

Tuzos let Liga MX champs off the hook

Eighth-seeded Pachuca started the game on its front foot, making several forays into América’s defensive third before breaking through in minute 21.

Star striker Salomón Rondón flicked a pass to Erick Sánchez in the right channel and the diminutive midfielder let fly from 16 meters, forcing a diving save from Luis Malagón. The América goalie left a long rebound and Rondón circled his marker to get to the ball first, banging a left-footer low inside the left post.

Three minutes later, Tuzos defender Andrés Micolta took advantage of América ball-watching and pounced on another Malagón rebound but fired over the crossbar. Two minutes after that, Emilio Rodríguez clanged the left post from close range.

The Liga MX champs were looking out of sorts while Pachuca coach Guillermo Almada was pulling out his hair, lamenting the missed opportunities.

Almada’s aggravation worsened in minute 38, when Alan Bautista mishandled a pass from Sánchez, giving Malagón time to race off his line and smother Bautista’s half-turn shot. 

Just before halftime and against the run of play, Aguilas winger Javairo Dilrosun lofted a perfect cross to the back post where Henry Martín got behind right fullback Jorge Berlanga and nodded home the equalizer.

Familiarity breeds contempt

This being their third meeting in just over two weeks, the Aguilas and Tuzos know how to annoy each other.

With ref Fernando Guerrero swallowing his whistle for much of the match, it started to get physical in the second half. And that often prompted rough play, chippy tackles and petty challenges.

The game lacked crispness for long stretches, but there was plenty of excitement. 

Rondón was denied a second goal for offside (a call that was upheld after a lengthy VAR review) in minute 67

América grew more frustrated at not being able to shake off their nemesis, and Aguilas players were constantly whining about non-calls, wasting energy and time.

Meanwhile, the Pachuca youngsters struggled to maintain concentration, telegraphing passes, holding onto the ball too long and turning simple plays into gasps and moans.

This sets the stage for a big showdown at the Azteca on Saturday with the Aguilas wondering if they can defeat the precocious Tuzos who are 2-2-0 against the Liga MX champs this season.

Martín keeps climbing the list

With his clutch goal in first-half stoppage time, América captain Henry Martín broke a tie with 1950s star Enrique González Palmer to move all alone into 6th place on the franchise's all-time scoring list.


"La Bomba" now has 102 goals since joining "los Azulcremas" from Tijuana in January 2018. He only needs two more goals to catch the legendary Enrique Borja in fifth place.