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Match recap: León 3, Santos Laguna 2

Despite having a player advantage for most of the second half, Santos can’t overcome their first half deficit and León advances in a thrilling match.

Federico Viñas of Leon celebrates after scoring the team’s third goal with teammate José Alvarado during the Play-in match between León and Santos Laguna as part of the Torneo Apertura 2023 Liga MX at León Stadium on November 26, 2023 in León, México. Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images

Santos Laguna’s season comes to an end, while León gets a new lease on life after a thrilling match at the Nou Camp. León took a three goal lead before going down a player, which allowed Santos to come back and almost take the match to penalties.

León started out the match taking a very physical tact, committing to the tackle almost from the opening whistle. While La Fiera had the physical advantage, neither team was able to get much going in terms of offense. Omar Campos registered the first shot on goal of the match in the 13th minute, cutting in from the left wing and hitting a slow-roller of a shot that Rodolfo Cota easily scooped up. Three minutes later at the other end Federico Viñas had a chance for a wide-open header in front of goal, but the cross came in too hot and he could only head it up and into the stands. In the 20th minute though León broke through when Adonis Frías took advantage on confusion in the box on a corner kick and headed the ball in past Carlos Acevedo for his first ever goal in Liga MX.

León did not sit on their laurels. In the 23rd minute, José “Platano” Alvarado got on the end of a nice cross into the box from Viñas, but his header went just side of the net. In the 27th they hit Santos on a counter and this time Viñas just missed connecting on a cross into the box at his feet. Santos however started to get some chances of their own. In the 29th minute Harold Preciado got his first touch in the box, however it was a deflection into his arm which was quickly called by referee César Arturo Ramos. In the 32nd, Emerson Rodríguez had a good run on goal but the resulting shot went wide. At the other end, Iván Moreno had a shot on goal from distance that Acevedo calmly collected. As the match drew closer to halftime however, Santos was able to gain some good possession and pressure León. Juan Brunetta had a look in the 41st, but his left footed shot went wide by about a meter. Off of the ensuing goal kick, Fede Viñas got in past the defender and drew Acevedo out of position, but his chip went well wide of the net. Seconds later, a poor turnover from Santos lead to a wonderful strike from distance from Fidel Ambríz that beat Acevedo to double the lead.

Santos tried to grab one back before the break, and Duván Vergara had a shot in the third minute of stoppage that was deflected just wide of the mark. On the ensuing corner kick, Brunetta had a shot that didn’t curl quite enough and just missed the far post wide. That would be the last chance of the half, as the hosts took their two goal lead into the locker room.

The second half started off with a bang for León, as Fede Viñas got onto a great ball over the top, took a touch in the box, and hammered one past Acevedo just over one minute in.

The match however changed in the 52nd minute when Fidel Ambríz went in high on Roni Prieto and raked his studs down Prieto’s leg. Referee Ramos pulled out a yellow card and then a red, sending Ambríz to the showers and leaving the hosts down a player for the remainder of the match. Santos however had a tough time, as León got a couple of chances off of corner kicks in their own end. In the 56th minute León almost had a fourth, however Prieto was able to chest the ball on the goal line and clear it out before the deficit became even worse.

Santos had a chance with a free kick in the 62nd minute just outside of the box, but Javier Correa just missed wide by a matter of inches. Santos kept the pressure on, keeping possession in deep but weren’t able to make much of it until the 71st minute when a great ball in from Raúl “Dedos” López found Harold Preciado in the box. Preciado was able to evade the diving attempt by Rodolfo Cota and flick the ball back to Cervantes, who rifled the ball into the top of the net to pull one back for the visitors.

Santos kept pressing, and tried to pull one more back. There were some ugly scenes in the 75th minute as Juan Brunetta was hit by debris thrown from the stands as he went to take a corner kick. Then in the 83rd another great ball from Dedos found Preciado in the box, and with a decisive left footed shot Santos were back within one.

Sensing the urgency, Santos pressed on. Javier Correa had a couple of good headers in the box but couldn’t quite pull them in. A scary situation in the fourth minute of stoppage time when going for a ball, Lucas Romero was kicked in the jaw by Preciado as he was attempting to take a shot on goal. After several minutes down on the pitch, Romero was put into a neck brace before being carted off of the pitch. Then in the seventh minute of stoppage Preciado was played in on goal but his touch hit off of the underside of the bar and bounced out. Try as they might, Santos was unable to find another goal and León saw out the end of the match to advance to face América in the Liguilla.

León: Rodolfo Cota; Iván Moreno, Adonis Frías, William Tesillo, Osvaldo Rodríguez; Ángel Mena (Omar Fernández, 74’, José Ramírez, 90+11’), Lucas Romero (Stiven Barreiro, 90+8’), Fidel Ambríz, Elías Hernández (Paul Bellón, 59’); Federico Viñas (Brian Rubio, 74’), José Alvarado (José Rodríguez, 74’)

Santos Laguna: Carlos Acevedo; Ismael Govea (Raúl López, 70’), Félix Torres, Roni Prieto (Javier Correa, 58’), Omar Campos; Alan Cervantes, Pedro Aquino; Emerson Rodríguez (Santiago Muñoz, 70’), Juan Brunetta, Duván Vergara (Diego Medina, 46’); Harold Preciado

Scoring: León - Adonis Frías (20’), Fidel Ambríz (41’), Federico Viñas (46’); Santos Laguna - Alan Cervantes (71’), Harold Preciado (83’)

Disciplinary: León - Fidel Ambríz (Yellow - 43’, 52’), Nicolás Larcamón (Yellow - 43’), Rodolfo Cota (Yellow - 90+1’); Santos Laguna - None