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Toluca hold firm and defeat America to book ticket to the final

America fell apart at the wrong time and were unable to make a comeback in their quest for the 14th.

America v Toluca - Playoffs Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

The atmosphere was electrifying at the Azteca, but not even that was enough for America to make a comeback win. Toluca defeated the Aguilas, who were favored to win their 14th title, and now the Diablos await the result of the Pachuca/Monterrey match to know who they will face in the final.

Both America and Toluca made small changes to their lineups hoping it would be enough to secure a win. Toluca head coach Ignacio Ambriz put Jorge Torres Nilo in place of Carlos Guzman and Fernando Navarro in place of Camilo Sanvezzo, while Fernando ‘Tano’ Ortiz replaced Jonathan ‘Cabecita’ Rodriguez with Brian Rodriguez. It was a decision that left some people scratching their heads, but at the end of the day Tano saw something during practice that left him confident in the change. It ended up paying off as Rodriguez made an immediate impact in the game, when a few minutes in Rodriguez sent in a shot towards goal that Diablos goalkeeper Tiago Volpi was able to get his hands on. A few minutes later, Alejandro Zendejas sent in a shot towards goal and both Diego Valdes and Volpi went for the ball at the same time with Valdes being called for the foul. Just in the first 15 minutes of the game, the Aguilas were already looking better than they did in their previous one. Their passes looked better, they were able to maintain possession, had better chances, and most importantly looked calm.

That was until the the 29th minute when Toluca struck first. Luis Fuentes was carded for a late foul on Andres Mosquera and the Aguilas were able to clear that free kick out for a corner. That’s where Toluca took advantage of America’s weakness (set pieces) and Torres Nilo was there to push the ball into the back of the net with his chest to open the scoring.

Now America had to score two goals to keep their dream of a spot in the final alive. They had been down like this in the past and had been able to get themselves back on top, but that was during the regular season, not the Liguilla where anyone can win.

It only took the Aguilas six minutes to score and be within one goal of equalizing the aggregate score. Diego Valdes, who had mostly disappeared during the semifinals, sent a ball deep to Fuentes, who was able to send the ball across to the far post where Zendejas was there to head the ball into the net. The goal was the spark America needed.

The second half started the same. America came out strong as Fuentes took the first shot, but it went wide. A few minutes later, Brian Rodriguez sent a pass to Henry Martin who couldn’t initially decide if he was going to pass or go for the shot. He ultimately went for the shot but it went wide. In the 53rd minute, Diego Valdes was subbed off for Roger Martinez, and this change wasn’t a surprise considering he disappeared for much of the first leg and the second. Other than the pass he sent to Fuentes that led to the goal, Valdes was nowhere to be seen over the last two games.

Ten minutes later, ‘Cabecita’ Rodriguez was subbed into the game and provided fresh legs to an offense that really needed it. While America were creating dangerous chances, they were unable to capitalize on any of them. By the 75th minute, they seemed to have lost their spark and the Azteca wasn’t as energetic as it was at the beginning of the game as Toluca inched closer and closer to punching a ticket to the final.

Eight minutes were added at the end of the 90 of regulation, and it wasn’t surprising considering how much time Toluca wasted. Both Jean Meneses and goalkeeper Tiago Volpi were shown yellow cards for time wasting and other Toluca players also spent extra time on the ground when they were hit, so it wasn’t a surprise so much time was added. All the Diablos had to do was hold on for those eight minutes. They were so close until the first minute of stoppage time, when Henry Martin appeared and was able to send a ball in past Volpi for the goal. But upon further review the goal was overturned because Martin’s right foot was offside. America had one last opportunity to score on a corner, but for some reason it was badly taken and Toluca were able to clear as the referee signaled the end of the game and the end of America’s season.

What could have been America’s 14th championship ended in defeat at home. They made an incredible comeback midseason and were the favorites to win it all, but they fell apart at the worst time. While players showed up during the regular season, they were nowhere to be found during the semifinals. Now, that’s not to discredit the incredible fight Toluca showed. The Diablos were the dark horse of the postseason and executed their plan. They took advantage of America’s errors and their Volpi-led defense held strong. Volpi has honestly been the best goalkeeper of the Liguilla, and if it wasn’t for him, the results could have been a lot different.

Now Toluca await their opponent for the championship series while America go into the offseason without a trophy in what could have been a historic season.