Leon came back twice to get a great 3-2 win over Atlas in the first leg of the 2021 Apertura Final. Atlas twice took the lead, but Leon came back to tie each time, getting a late goal to take the advantage in the Liga MX Final. Atlas, who is trying to get their first Liga MX championship since 1951 battled hard and were a tough opponent, but key mistakes allowed Leon to get back in the lead. Still Leon is only one goal up and will have to go to Guadalajara, where there should be an electric atmosphere as the Atlas fans feel as close as ever to getting their first title in their lifetime and hope to end the longest tenure without a title in Mexico.
The first half started after a minute of silence for the death of Alfredo Moreno. Leon came out with the notable change of David Ramirez for Osvaldo Rodriguez, who got a red card for a fight against Tigres after he had been subbed out. Atlas had the good news that Julian Quiñones, who had come out injured in the last match against Pumas, was able to start the match. There was a strong foul a minute in from David Barbosa on Jean Meneses that got him a yellow card, but had many questioning if they had seen the new controversy against a call by Atlas by not getting a red card. Atlas kept attacking and after a throw in, the ball got into the area and Luis Reyes was able to get a right footed shot past Leon’s goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota for the 1-0 lead. Once again Atlas looked well prepared to handle a Leon team that tried to respond, but had a hard time breaking through the tough defense from Atlas. There was another controversy when Angel Mena had a a one-on-one and looked to have been brought by Jesus Angulo, but the referee failed to call a foul. A minute later Andres Mosquera tried to get to a ball but fell to the ground, looking like he had been injured. He had to be subbed out for Ramiro Gonzalez. Then a great counter attack from Leon ended with a great play. Mena made a great cross that was headed back by Meneses to Victor Davila, who got an incredible left footed shot past Atlas’ goalkeeper Camilo Vargas for the 1-1 equalizer. It was an incredible goal that put Leon right back into the match. The goal turned the match, and Leon started to be more dangerous, coming close with a shot from outside the area from William Tesillo that went just wide.
The second half started with both teams coming out without a sub, knowing that Leon was forced to sub out Mosquera because of injury. Leon had a great chance when Meneses got off a great shot from outside the area that bounced off of the post. After a longball to the area, Quiñones lowered the ball but his shot was saved by Cota. Then after another great throw in Quiñones got into the area, the ball and was lowered by Stiven Bareiro and Julio Furch got a left footed shot past Cota for the 2-1 lead. The referee went to VAR for a possible offside and a possible foul, but neither were given and the goal counted. Leon subbed out Omar Fernandez and Santiago Colombatto for Emanuel Gigliotti and Luis Montes. Leon needed the goal and was going all out. Atlas subbed out Jeremy Marquez and Luis Reyes for Edgar Zaldivar and Anibal Chala. A long range shot from Jean Meneses was once again badly handled by Vargas, leaving the ball for Angel Mena who got a easy right footed tap in past Vargas for the 2-2 equalizer. It was Vargas’ second consecutive game making the same mistake and giving up a key goal because of it, as the only goal in the second leg of the semifinal against Pumas was because of the same mistake. Atlas then subbed out Diego Barbosa for Jose Abella. Things went from bad to worse for Atlas when Davila fell in the area after a possible foul from Alan Rocha, and the referee gave a penalty kick to Leon. Angel Mena stepped up to take it and with a strong left footed shot scored the 3-2 winner. Leon subbed out Jean Meneses and Victor Davila for Elias Hernandez and Fidel Ambriz. It looked like Quiñones got the ball in the area and his shot was saved by Cota, but he was called offside. It was the last play and after a great game, Leon took the lead in the series with their home win.
Leon and Atlas both gave great performances, with a lot of exciting plays and great goals being scored. Leon got a key win, but with the end of the tie breakers, a one-goalwin by Atlas at home will force overtime in which Atlas will definitely be helped by the ravenous support from their home crowd, who is waiting for their first title since 1951. Leon though played well enough to get over an Atlas team that looked well prepared. Worrisome for Atlas is that their defense had been their best weapon but for a second straight match, it let them down. Vargas made two key mistakes that changed both the semifinal second leg against Pumas (which they lost by a 1-0 score) and now the first leg of the Final. Atlas hopes to bounce back at home and finally get their long awaited title, while Leon hopes to build on their advantage, which they are more than capable of doing, with strong counter attacks and with a defense that will miss Mosquera but will get the return of Osvaldo Rodriguez. If it’s as good as the performance on Thursday night, it should be a joy to watch.