Eduardo Vargas struggles for Tigres as Pachuca steals vital away goal in CCL
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Three thoughts from the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, where underdog Pachuca escaped Tigres' Estadio Universitario with a valuable 1-1 draw.
1. Toothless Tigres held at home
It wasn't the most ideal way to start the match. In the first opportunity Pachuca got on goal, Los Tuzos were able to celebrate an unexpected goal, which happened after a Raul "Deditos" Lopez's free kick deflected off Chile international forward Eduardo Vargas.
Although Tigres received an early hard hit, the crowd pushed the team forward and by half-time the possession numbers read 75 percent in favor for Tigres. Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's side clouded Pachuca's offense. After the game, Diego Alonso admitted that he had wished for his Pachuca players to be more active in attack, but that Tigres were being more deft and quicker in recovering the ball.
Guido Pizarro, who played most of the match with what appeared to be a fractured nose, was clinical with his ball recuperation rate, allowing Tigres to create important scoring chances as the game continued.
"Opportunities, we had plenty," Ferretti said after the match. "We just weren't sharp in front of goal."
In the second half, Andre-Pierre Gignac, without any Pachuca defenders around him, took a shot inside the box, but it sailed wide. Those are opportunities the France international tends to put in the back of the net, but it wasn't the case on Tuesday night. Matters got worse in the 66th minute when Vargas saw his penalty kick blocked by Pachuca goalkeeper Alfonso Blanco.
After scoring seven goals in their past two Liga MX games, Tigres' main attackers Gignac and Vargas saw many of their shots fall off target, while Ismael Sosa, who scored Tigres' only goal of the game, had the best night of Tigres' heavy-loaded attackers.
Pachuca suffered but overcame a tempest provoked by Tigres' possession game, which led the Monterrey side to finish the night with 20 shots.
2. Vargas' nerves were noticeable
Vargas knows that with Tigres he has an important role. He came to Liga MX to make a name for himself and against Los Tuzos, his nerves played against him. He wanted to impress the crowd so much that at the end he finished the game with nothing significant in his bag.
Vargas was involved in Pachuca's goal and the crowd left the stadium disappointed after seeing him miss a penalty. But despite his weak performance, Ferretti showed Vargas support after the game.
"If Pele missed penalties, why can't we miss them?" he asked.
Before Pachuca's visit, Tigres had scored seven goals, but neither of those had been scored by Vargas. Since his arrival to the club, he's scored three goals, two in CCL play.
Adjusting to his new team hasn't been easy, especially taking into account the important role that Gignac has in the attack. The attacking plays always seem to be looking for one ultimate target: the former Marseille forward.
At Tigres, Vargas is still trying to find his role, but what should keep him running is the team's desire for him to become one of the attack's leaders alongside Gignac and Sosa.
If Vargas is able to tally a goal in this weekend's Clasico Regiomontano, his confidence will go through the roof, and he'll arrive to Wednesday's second leg at Estadio Hidalgo determined to score.
3. Pachuca has the edge
Alonso and his players left the stadium happy. At half-time the outlook didn't look good, especially after Sosa's goal, which occured after Blanco failed to retain the ball after a save.
For much of the match, Los Tuzos relied heavily on their wingers' speed. All the balls were always looking for Hirving "Chucky" Lozano and Jonathan Urretaviscaya, so they could breakaway in open space.
The plan almost worked in the 83rd minute, when Urretaviscaya had a great opportunity to score, but goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman made a huge save that could go down as the save of the series.
Now the coin is up in the air, exactly where Pachuca wanted it. At home, Pachuca is almost an unbreakable side. In 2017, Los Tuzos haven't lost a single game at home and only conceded once -- against FC Dallas -- in the CCL semis.
Pachuca might have one good chance to score, and it will need to put it in. If it wants to lift its fifth CCL trophy, it will need to be sharp in front of goal, something of which Tigres couldn't do at El Volcan.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.