Good fortune and solid defending carry Club America past Leon
MEXICO CITY, Mexico -- Club America inaugurated the 2015 Apertura's Liguilla in style at the Estadio Azteca by defeating Leon 4-1.
For America, it was their fourth home win of the season, while head coach Ignacio "Nacho" Ambriz won his first ever postseason game as a manager thanks to Dario Benedetto, Paolo Goltz, Michael Arroyo and Paul Aguilar's goals. The lone goal for Leon was scored by Ignacio Gonzalez.
Here are three takeaways from the first leg of the two teams' Liga MX quarterfinal playoff series.
1. America fail to thrill, but still score four
In the last 10 America-Leon games played in Mexico City, dating back to the 1997 Invierno season, America had won eight and thus had history on their side ahead of Wednesday night's match.
After going down 1-0 early, America were able to come back and got its first two goals off a series of bounces in Leon's area that fell to America defenders Goltz and Aguilar, respectively, who finished their chances. The goals weren't the result of some sort of elaborate play; they looked more like lucky bounces that fell in America's favor. The third goal came via a penalty that raised more than one eyebrow.
Las Aguilas dominated the possession of the ball during the entire game, and more than once they were able to generate dangerous counterattacks, but the show wasn't one that honored the beauty of the game. What America did on the Estadio Azteca's pitch was to play like its head coach, Ambriz, did during his playing days -- with elegant, smart defending.
America went into halftime with a 3-1 lead, and in the second half the team came out fiercely focused on protecting its lead. It was one of the few times this season when Ambriz's hand on the team could be seen. America scored four goals without being spectacular, but it got the job done and the americanistas left the stadium with smiles.
2. Paul Aguilar continues perfect autumn
Aguilar is one of Mexico's players of the year, ranking up there with national team captain Andres Guardado and star striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Aguilar is the quiet soldier; he always gets the job done in the right-back position, and when it counts, he tends to get important goals, as he did in the CONCACAF Cup against the United States.
America and El Tri's right-back owns a right-foot that can beat any goalkeeper in Liga MX. But what impresses is his team spirit, which was seen after he scored. Every single America player came to celebrate the goal with him, and after the huddle dispersed, Aguilar ran towards Ambriz and gave him a hug. Aguilar embodies the word "team," and in the last few weeks he has finally received the attention he's always deserved.
3. Leon's defensive faults were expected
Before its visit to Mexico City, Leon's previous five away games finished with losses. In those games, Leon only scored four goals and conceded 17. America's first two goals came after Leon's inability to clear the ball from its own area. As America celebrated, goalkeeper William Yarbrough looked up to the sky, most likely longing for former teammate and center back Rafael Marquez to direct the team during set pieces.
Leon made it into the last eight because of its impressive home record and offense led by one of Liga MX's top goalscorers, Mauro Boselli, but its visiting record was embarrassing. Leon is the first team in Mexican football history to enter the postseason after conceding 31 goals in the regular season. Los Esmeraldas' defensive deficiencies were exposed on Wednesday night in Mexico's capital, and now only a comeback for the ages can send them to the semifinals.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.