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León stumble in playoffs once again

After another stellar regular season, León have dropped the first leg to the 12th overall team, putting their entire season in jeopardy for Saturday’s second leg match

Puebla v Leon - Playoffs Torneo Guard1anes 2020 Liga MX Photo by Carlos Pacheco/Jam Media/Getty Images

Some may call it the near three-week break, causing loss of rhythm. Others may call it bad luck. Others may even call it Puebla’s good form and confidence after eliminating Monterrey. Whatever the case may be, one truth remains: León struggle to translate their great regular season form into the the playoffs. This much has been true, especially during the Nacho Ambriz era. And one can’t deny their amazing series of results over the past two years, clearly establishing themselves as the best regular season team in Liga MX during that span, garnering over 40 regular season wins. But the playoffs just haven’t suited this particular group of players.

Back in the Clausura 2019 season, in which they were superlíderes in by the way, León barely moved past América in the Semi-Final, losing the second leg at home by 0-1, tying the aggregate score, and only moving on because of their higher position in the league table. That was followed by a very poor Final series vs. Tigres, who not only won their 7th title in franchise history, but looked infinitely superior than Ambriz’s squad doing it.

The following season, they ended up 2nd overall in the league table after another stellar showing, but this time, came up short in the first round of the playoffs, falling to 7th placed Morelia, drawing the first leg 3-3 and losing the second at home by 1-2. The Clausura 2020 was of course interrupted by COVID. And now, after another more than impressive regular season, ending with them as superlíderes once again, they have come up short in the first leg of their Quarter-Final vs. 12th place overall, Puebla. That’s right, 12th place. This is a club who lost 9 games in the regular season, and who by they just defeated a month ago on the road by a score of 2-1 by the way. Yesterday however, for no apparent reason, they were down 2-0 by the 36th minute of action.

The change was apparent in the first minute of play, when the Camoteros took the lead. Puebla left-winger Omar Fernández took the ball, dribbled his way easily through two defenders, made his way into the penalty-box and took a wide open shot which got by keeper Rodolfo Cota with no problem. After a few anemic attacks by León ended in nothing, the central defense was once again exhibited, as Stiven Barreiro mistimed his challenge and failed to get his body in front of Christian Tabó, who ended up crossing the ball in, ensued by another mistimed effort by the other León centre-back, Andrés Mosquera, who ended up putting the ball into his own net. And we’re not just talking about any defense here. León were the league’s best defense along with Pachuca, conceding just 14 goals overall. Yesterday, they did not play the part.

Their third-best ranked offense was also stifled in the first half, with only one clear opportunity, and the rest ending in weak and awry attempts. They continued to struggle throughout the second half with the same kind of attacks, up until the final 10 minutes of the match, when they finally created real danger they were unable to tranlsate into goals, along with a correctly invalidated offside goal.

While Puebla got lucky at the end, the point still stands; León shrunk in all areas of the pitch last night, and after losing just one game during the entire regular season, they have now lost their only playoff match thus far. It could’ve been just a bad night, and they can still undoubtedly rebound and contend for the title. But after being witness to last night, coupled with the past two years of playoff disappointments, this has now become a trend; this León team might just not have what it takes in the crucial playoff moments. They will have a chance to prove the doubters wrong on Saturday at 8 ET (7 CT).