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Is León the dark horse of the season?

With some interesting new signings, León is looking like a promising team again.

Lixy Rodríguez, Mariana Larroquette, Ruth “La Chule” Bravo and Romina Núñez.
Lixy Rodríguez, Mariana Larroquette, Ruth “La Chule” Bravo and Romina Núñez.
León Femenil

It seems like it was a long time ago when León was one of the teams to watch in Liga MX Femenil, one that could entertain us, even though they might not have won week in and week out.

Actually, the last two seasons weren’t kind to “La Fiera” at all. After that historic qualification to Liguilla in Clausura 2019/20 season, everybody expected them to become a new powerhouse in the league. The expectations were high, and at the beginning of the next season, everybody counted them among the teams that were going to be in the playoffs.

But they fell short and finished in position eleven, three places shy from the eighth position and therefore didn’t qualify for Liguilla. After that, pundits and fans thought León only had a misstep and next tournament was going to be when they were reborn from the ashes like a phoenix.

Far from it...

Leon couldn’t get into their stride and no matter who went to play for the club, they sunk deeper and deeper as the seasons went by. They fell to positions 14 and 13 in the seasons played in 2020/21 and reached a new low in the Clausura and Apertura 2021/22 where they finished 16 and 15, respectively. That year, they had 70 goals against and only 24 in favor.

No wonder that, by then, everybody lost their faith in a club that promised much at some point of its existence, but lost track in the process. When all things go wrong on the field season after season, players tend to set course to another club, and more so when the owners don’t seem very interested in investing in the team. Players have come and gone in the past years, with the exception of only a few.

The Captain and the Keeper

Daniela Calderón has been a constant in the club since she made her debut in the league in 2019. She’s a forward, but also contributes in the midfield and defense when needed. Even in the club’s worst moments, she has been there. The forward has become the emblem of this team, so it was no wonder that she was chosen to be the captain even though she hasn’t been there that long. Calderón has been contributing each passing year with goals, averaging 4 per season, and is the club’s top goalscorer. La Fiera can always count on her to be there.

In the following video, you can see Calderón’s technique in her goal against América (final result: América 4 - 1 León):

León can say the same about goalkeeper Angeles Martínez. After winning Liguilla with Tigres and having had a key role in their first title, she decided to change clubs in 2019. The 26 year-old has been a constant presence on goal, always reliable, despite the team losing by a wide margin on many occasions. And if you ever hear the term “sweeper keeper” and wonder what the heck that is, I encourage you to watch Martínez.

In the following video, you can see the goalkeeper cutting Atlético de San Luis’ attack with a sweep, after her defense was beaten:

Despite Calderón and Martínez’s work rate on the field, while watching the team play, it was evident they needed players in different positions that could hold the ball and maintain possession. León used to lose the ball too quickly, tended to rely heavily on Calderon’s moves in attack – and also in Marta Cox’s before she left for Pachuca –, leave the half spaces wide open for the opponent to exploit, and also let many through balls find their targets. They also had a hard time applying pressure on the opponent on the wings, making it too easy for them to send crosses into the box or even shoot on frame.

Watch León losing the ball easily and giving a goal away after Martínez debates herself between cutting the attack — like she usually does — or to stay in goal. She’s caught in no man’s land and San Luis capitalizes on it:

León gets help

After the worst two seasons in their history, they needed players who could make a difference on the field and help turn things around to make the team competitive again. And that help came from Costa Rica and Argentina.

In August 2021, Ruth “La Chule” Bravo signed with Pachuca and stayed there for two seasons, including the one when las Tuzas got to play the second final of their history. After that, her future seemed secure in the team, but during the off-season, there was a rumor she was going to be a new León player. That seemed strange to some extent since the Argentine did a good job in Pachuca. But if we keep in mind that both clubs are owned by the same group, it was understandable. Everything made sense when we found out that Bravo wasn’t going to León alone, but with two national team players: the former Kansas City forward Mariana Larroquette and midfielder Romina Núñez. A few days before that, Costa Rican left back Lixy Rodríguez was confirmed as a new signing as well.

Rodríguez debuted on August 2nd while the three Argentines made their debut on August 8th against one of the powerhouses of the league: Club América. The three South Americans came in at the beginning of the second half and had an instant impact on the field. Núñez and Bravo started to win fouls in the midfield and helped the team not lose possession so quickly and stop the fast wingers América has. Núñez even registered one assist that day. Larroquette contributed in the attack and set up Calderón for her to do her part. It was refreshing to see some partnership with the team’s captain, giving her the freedom to display her game.

Regarding Rodríguez, she covered that left back pretty well and didn’t give América much room to work with. And because of the Costa Rican’s good job on the left, the Águilas didn't have another choice but to create most of their attacks on the right side of the field.

That match finished 2-2 and besides the positives already mentioned, we gotta say that León had some luck that day too. América had the opportunity to put things 3-1 through a penalty kick but Katty Martínez missed that golden opportunity. The equalizer came through a PK in stoppage time and the Daniela Calderón didn’t miss.

After that game, Leon accumulated 2 wins and 2 losses in the following matches and is in 10th place with 14 points. So far, they have 4 wins, 2 draws, and 5 losses on the season. Nonetheless, despite the average results, Leon is one point ahead of Pachuca. And that’s noteworthy since the latter has the likes of Jenni Hermoso and Charlyn Corrall, among other great players on its roster.

Weeks go by pretty quickly in Liga MX Femenil and anything can happen, but it’s good to see how León is showing a new face even though they still need to develop many aspects of their game. Despite this, the chemistry showed among their new signings with the rest of the team is something worth watching. Is this a new dawn for La Fiera? Will they be able to finish among the top 8 in order to qualify for the playoffs? Only time will tell, but they are a fun team to watch again.