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Liguilla match recap: Toluca 4, Santos Laguna 3

A wild match that had everything sets the stage for what should be a fantastic second leg on Sunday.

Tiago Volpi goalkeeper of Toluca celebrates after scoring his team’s fourth goal via penalty during the quarterfinals first leg match between Toluca and Santos Laguna as part of the Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX at Nemesio Diez Stadium on October 13, 2022 in Toluca, Mexico. Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images

One of the main things about Liga MX that hooks in fans who may have no other interest in the game is the unpredictability. Games and seasons are often a blank canvas, where literally anything can happen. That unpredictability often multiplies in the postseason, turning fixtures into emotional displays of sporting spectacle, fueled by thousands of spectators urging on their favorites with large displays and full-throated songs.

Even with that, the match between Toluca and Santos in the historic Estadio Nemesio Díez was different. It was different from the start, with Toluca’s fans unveiling a large coordinated display of fireworks and tifo and singing so loud the roar seemed to be part of the stadium.

Santos started out pressing like mad, giving Toluca no space or time on the ball. A minute in Harold Preciado made a run into the box and went down on some contact from Andrés Mosquera, but referee Diego Montaño allowed play to continue. After a brief booth review, Montaño’s call on the field was allowed to stand. Then at the other end in the third minute a corner kick was headed by Fer Navarro on frame but was deflected by Félix Torres and knocked off of the crossbar. On the ensuing corner kick, Carlos González hit a perfectly placed header that snuck in past Carlos Acevedo near-post.

Santos immediately went back down the field and tried to equalize, but Toluca held firm. Then in the fifth minute Toluca carved up Santos’ defense with some nice passing and a great run by Jean Menenses, laying it off for Camilo Sanvezzo, who hit a shot past Acevedo to double the lead.

Santos was undeterred, and almost got one in the ninth minute when a nice recuperation and run by Leo Suárez saw a pass cross the front of the goal and get deflected out of bounds for a corner. Then in the eleventh minute a nice pass from Carlos Orrantia found Fernando Gorriarán in the box, but his redirection missed the far post by inches. Eduardo “Mudo” Aguirre just missed a tap-in on a nice pass into the area from Orrantia in the 16th minute.

Things settled down a bit, but Santos had a great chance in the 23rd minute when Félix Torres got the ball into the box, but he was well marked and his shot went straight to the hands of goalkeeper Thiago Volpi. In the 26th minute a corner kick went into the mixer, and Volpi looked to get it but bobbled it, and then had to slap the rebound out. Instead however he wound up hitting Hugo Rodríguez in the face, and Montaño pointed to the spot and showed Volpi a yellow card. Fernando Gorriarán stepped up and knocked the penalty in past Volpi to cut the hosts’ lead to one.

A scary sight in the 34th minute when Meneses made a run down the right and twisted his ankle on a non-contact play. He was however able to get back up and continue play after being tended to by the medical staff. Then at the other end, Leo Suárez made a nice run down the right flank, cut inside, and unleashed a curling shot that kissed off of the outside of the far post. A minute later, a nice pass in from Suárez found the head of Harold Preciado, who knocked it back against the grain which caught Volpi by surprise to equalize the match.

Preciado almost got a brace in the 42nd minute when he got a brilliant ball played to him, but just pushed his shot wide. Then on the re-start, Volpi pinged a ball downfield for Sanvezzo, who chipped one up and over Carlos Acevedo, but also the goal as well. The first half ended with both teams tied at two.

The second half started off as electric as the first. In the 47th minute Toluca had shouts for a handball in the box, but no call was made and play continued. Santos had a good opportunity on a Harold Preciado shot, but it was cleared out. Santos came back down the field, and Omar Campos hit a perfectly weighted cross into Mudo Aguirre, who got a beautiful touch on it to put it past Volpi to give Santos the lead.

Toluca had a great chance in the 53rd when Jean Meneses hit a low shot from distance, but Carlos Acevedo slid on his knees and knocked it well clear in a stop that would have made hockey great Martin Brodeur proud. The game started to slow down a bit as both teams started fouling more and making it almost impossible to develop a rhythm. In the 67th minute a play almost exactly like the one that lead to the penalty for Santos took place, this time with Carlos Acevedo bobbling what looked to be a routine save and then being forced to punch it out. Acevedo however didn’t hit a Toluca player so much as he was hit by a Toluca players, with Valber Huerta colliding with him on the ground after he had punched the ball out.

Toluca however wasn’t done. In the 72nd minute Brayan Angulo hit a perfect cut-back pass to Sanvezzo, who never broke stride and rifled it into the back of the net for the equalizer.

This energized the crowd, who were loud all night but seemed to find another level after the goal. Toluca had a great chance in the 82nd on a free kick, but Sanvezzo’s attempt went over the bar by a matter of inches. Then in the 83rd Juan Brunetta picked up his second yellow card on a foul on Claudio Baeza and was sent off, starting a small shoving match between several players. Santos did well to stay in a defensive shell, but in the opening seconds of stoppage time Montaño gave a penalty when Meneses drove down the left and hit a ball that hit off of Jair González’ arm. Thiago Volpi came up from the opposing goal and took the penalty, knocking it past his opposite to give Toluca the late lead, capping an instant classic of a match.

The second leg will be in Torreón on Sunday, October 16th at 7:06 PM local time.

Toluca: Thiago Volpi; Carlos Guzmán, Andrés Mosquera, Valber Huerta, Jorge Rodríguez (Marcel Ruiz, 45’); Leonardo Fernández (Brayan Angulo, 45’), Claudio Baeza, Fer Navarro, Jean Menses; Camilo Sanvezzo (Raúl López, 83’), Carlos González

Santos Laguna: Carlos Acevedo; Carlos Orrantia, Félix Torres, Hugo Rodríguez, Omar Campos; Leo Suárez (Jair González, 61’), Fernando Gorriarán, Alan Cervantes, Juan Brunetta; Harold Preciado, Eduardo Aguirre (Javier Correa, 61’)

Scoring: Toluca - Carlos González (3’), Camilo Sanvezzo (5’, 72’), Thiago Volpi (90+1’); Santos Laguna - Fernando Gorriarán (29’ - penalty), Harold Preciado (36’), Eduardo Aguirre (48’)

Disciplinary: Toluca - Thiago Volpi (Yellow - 26’), Andrés Mosquera (Yellow - 50’), Camilo Sanvezzo (Yellow - 65’), Claudio Baeza (Yellow - 68’), Jean Meneses (Yellow - 74’); Santos Laguna - Juan Brunetta (Yellow - 44’, Red - 83’), Omar Campos (Yellow - 45+1’), Javier Correa (Yellow - 82’)