Santos Laguna wins Liga MX title, playing their best when it matters most to beat Toluca
TOLUCA, Mexico -- Santos Laguna held on to draw 1-1 against Toluca on Sunday and win their sixth Liga MX title. Julio Furch opened the scoring for Santos in the 10th minute, with Gabriel Hauche leveling in the 82nd minute. Los Guerreros took a memorable series 3-2 on aggregate.
Here are three takeaways from Estadio Nemesio Diez:
1. The best playoff team won
There are two ways of looking at Santos Laguna's victory over Toluca. Some would say Toluca was the best team in Liga MX all Clausura and deserved more than finishing as the runner-up. That argument has its merits.
In the end, though, the nature of Mexico's league structure is that of a playoff. Finding rhythm, momentum and belief in the liguilla is key, and Santos Laguna has been almost perfect in those regards since a quarterfinal first-leg 2-0 loss to Tigres.
The old saying that the playoffs are the start of a new tournament applies to Santos Laguna and the way rookie coach Robert Siboldi crafted a belief within the group. Santos Laguna has gone into each series as the underdog and come out as Liga MX champion.
In the final, a 2-1 lead was naturally a help to Santos Laguna going into the second leg, but Toluca hadn't lost at home in Liga MX since Oct. 29. It was never going to be anything other than a battle. The atmosphere ahead of the game as the teams arrived and before kickoff was intimidating in a way perhaps no other stadium and fan base in Mexico can match.
Backed by the ferocious support, Toluca came out flying, looking for an early goal, but Los Guerreros weren't going to be as easily overcome as Tijuana had been in the semifinal.
Key to that was the strike-partnership of Furch and Djaniny Tavares. They provided an outlet and a threat for Santos, who were under pressure for a lot of the game.
Furch calmly stroked in the opener in the 10th minute, with the ball skidding off the wet grass and past Alfredo Talavera. It came against the run of play.
Toluca responded but couldn't find a way past Jonathan Orozco. It was one of those games in which one side -- in this case, Santos -- just never looked like it was going to lose, even if Toluca had the better of the game and pulled a goal back late on. Center-back and captain Carlos Izquierdoz led the defense, central midfielder Jose Vazquez was everywhere and 20-year-old left-back Jesus Angulo stood up under immense pressure.
And if Toluca found a way past the green and white Santos wall, goalkeeper Orozco was on hand to stop it.
2. Orozco huge for Santos Laguna
Two Mexican goalkeepers were on display in the Liga MX final, but only one will be joining El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio at the World Cup.
Ironically, it was Santos Laguna's Orozco -- who won't be in Russia -- who produced a man-of-the-match performance, while Toluca's Talavera looked nervous and probably should've done better on Furch's opening goal.
Orozco, whose arms are covered with Spider-Man tattoos, seemed to conjure up superpowers of his own for a flying save from Rubens Sambueza in the 38th. It was a big moment. Sambueza seemed intent on rescuing the game for Toluca, and a goal could've shifted the momentum. Seven minutes later, Orozco tipped over a long-range shot from Antonio Rios.
But it wasn't only his athletic saves that were impressive. Orozco came out for crosses with authority and was key in starting his team's fast counters to Djaniny. In the second half, there was another key save against Alexis Canelo.
Talavera had made a mistake on Santos Laguna's opener on Thursday and wasn't convincing once again.
Osorio was watching from a box at Estadio Nemesio Diez, and while the Colombian isn't the type to take these decisions lightly, Orozco's superiority in a huge match won't have escaped his attention.
3. Toluca's No. 11 will have to wait
Toluca lost the Liga MX final in the first leg. It just didn't go Los Diablos Rojos' way on Sunday, although Santos deserve a large amount of praise for that.
On Thursday, however, Toluca could've been 3-0 up after an hour and spawned chances that they really should've done better with. Again, fair play to Santos Laguna for coming back and showing a lot of fight to win the first leg 2-1, but Toluca had to come from behind, and it was never going to be easy. The task was made much more difficult after Furch's opener.
It also bears mentioning that Toluca's revamped stadium was an apt venue for a final, and this club will be a force to be reckoned with next season, as it attempts to move on from 11 titles and close the gap on Chivas and Club America.
There is a reason Toluca dominated the regular season, and if the squad is kept together, Los Diablos Rojos will be back contending in the Apertura.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.