Leon repeat as Liga MX champions
In a vibrant championship match, Leon came into Pachuca's home stadium -- nicknamed Huracan -- and managed to find the eye of the storm. The away team scored twice to claim the Liga MX Clausura 2014 title, its second in as many years.
Leon's goalkeeper, William Yarbrough, was all of five years old when Pachuca's Oscar Perez made his professional debut in goal. Despite the inclusion of the 41-year-old, Pachua is still the youngest team in Liga MX. Thus, even with a one-goal aggregate lead to start the game, it was a viable bet that the young squad of players would falter in the face of big-game pressure and relinquish their advantage.
- Villagrana: Pachuca's timeless Oscar Perez
Yet the luck seemed to go Pachuca's way right from the start. Leon attacked strongly from the opening whistle, but Perez was up to the save against Mauro Boselli. Leon suffered a rash of early injuries, first to Jonny Magallon in the sixth minute, then to Franco Arizala a minute later. Eisner Loboa and Jose Maria Cardenas subbed in, leaving Leon with little flexibility in changes later in the match.
Despite the early player switches, Leon continued to keep the pressure on Perez, forcing him to make three saves before Yarbrough even had to make one. However, Pachuca's players worked their way into the game, eventually generating their own opportunities against Yarbrough. The young goalkeeper proved up to the challenge every time.
His excellent performance may have psyched Pachuca's attackers, like star Enner Valencia, out a bit. They started to shoot a bit frantically for the corners of the goal in order to avoid a save by Yarbrough. Clearly, they were eager to please the home fans, but the harder they tried to do so, the more that their shots seemed to fire wildly.
The match almost became a duel of saves between the goalkeepers. In the end, it was indeed Pachuca who faltered. Perhaps Perez simply got tired of making save after save. In the 66th minute, Cardenas sent in a cross to Boselli, who was again lurking in front of goal and rose to meet the ball. Perez got his hands on the Boselli header, but the goalkeeper couldn't control the ball, which bounced into the goal behind him as he fell.
With the aggregate all knotted up, the next goal for either team could be the winning goal. Away goals do not count in the championship final for Liga MX.
Considering Pachuca had given up four goals in the second half of the semifinal against Santos Laguna, but advanced to the final via the away goal rule, things didn't look good for the squad.
With the championship at stake, Leon was merciless in the attack. Pachuca had a few chances on the counter, but most of all, it was a battle of nerves to defend the slight advantage and maintain possession of the ball to limit chances. Pachuca managed to hold on to extra time. Fans in the stands tried to encourage the players on with shouts of "Tuzos!"
Yet it was Leon who dominated the first extra-time period, creating the most chances. Pachuca's counter runs were weary and lacked any credible threat, given that players tended to shoot off target from some distance.
It looked like things might go the way of the Tuzos when the second extra time period featured an early shot from Pachuca's Deiter Villalpando that bent just over the corner of the Leon goal. Events took another turn for the worse for Leon when the ever-dangerous Boselli went down with an injury a minute later. Forced to make a final substitution, coach Gustavo Matosas sent in Miguel Sabah.
Pachuca would inevitably pay for all their missed chances when Leon found a way to again finish. Juan Ignacio Gonzalez rose up for a corner kick and sent a header from close range into the goal past the helpless hand of Perez.
Pachuca's desperate attempts for a goal of their own weren't hopeless, but Yarbrough denied each one, using a spectacular one-handed punch to deny a header by Hugo Rodriguez in the 120th minute.
That was the last credible chance for the Tuzos. When the final whistle blew, the club that supposedly had no right to even be in the playoffs had improbably retained the championship crown. Leon proved that the heart of a champion doesn't falter against difficult odds and prevails against any storm of doubts.