Leon edges scrappy FC Juarez to secure spot in playoffs

Leon Juarez playoffs

Leon and FC Juarez battled for 90 minutes with the hosts winning and advancing to the Liga MX playoffs. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)

It wasn’t pretty but Leon is in the postseason

Borja Sánchez and Federico Viñas scored 6 minutes apart to overturn an early deficit to help Leon qualify for the Liga MX Play-In Tournament with a 2-1 win over FC Juarez in their season finale.

Viñas thought he’d put the Esmeraldas ahead in minute 12 put his goal was disallowed after VAR notified the ref that the ball had crossed the end line before Ángel Mena delivered the centering pass.

Shortly thereafter, the visiting Bravos raced downfield with numbers after a Leon corner kick, Sebastián Pérez Bouquet collected a loose ball after a tackle and one-timed a pass to Aitor García who was loping in alone down the left channel. García calmly slotted the ball around the onrushing Rodolfo Cota, silencing the boisterous Camp Nou crowd.

In minute 38, right winger Iván Moreno sent a pinpoint cross into the box where Viñas got a toe on it, redirecting it on net. Alfredo Talavera made a sprawling reflex safe but Sánchez swooped in from the left side to punch the rebound past Talavera.

With the crowd in an uproar, “La Fiera” took the lead before the half, sending their fans into a frenzy.

Again, Moreno lifted a picture-perfect cross into the goalie box. Talavera watched it soar just over the head of Mena at the near post, forced to react late but still deflecting the ball on a short hop. Unfortunately, the Juarez goalie redirected it into the path of the hard-charging Viñas. The ball ricocheted off the Urugayan’s face and into the back of the net.

The game got rather chippy in the second half, Juarez’s Sebastián Saucedo getting tossed from the match in minute 69.

Leon controlled the game from then on but could not find the clincher, even after Talavera was dismissed for a second yellow card in the dying minutes of the contest.

With the 2-1 result, the Esmeraldas moved to a modest 6-5-6 on the season, climbing into the top 10 and a spot in the all-new Play-In format. Their 23 points boosted Leon from 13th place to 8th (knocking Pachuca out of the playoffs) and sets the Esmeraldas up with a visit to No. 7 seed Atletico de San Luis with a ticket to the quarterfinals at stake.

Should Nicolás Larcomán’s men lose to the Tuneros they would host the winner of the Santos Laguna-Mazatlán FC match (the No. 9 vs No. 10 seed) with the final quarterfinal berth on the line.

While the lowest qualifiers square off in this mini-tournament, the Nos. 1-6 seeds have advanced directly to the Liguilla. This is the first season that the Liga MX has adopted the Play-In format made popular by the NBA in recent years.