Carlos Rodríguez emerges with clean sheet vs league leaders

Tigres America

League-leading América was shut out by Tigres for the first time this season. The two title contenders battled the conditions as well. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Rugged Tigres hold top-scoring team goalless

In his first game for Tigres this season, Carlos Rodríguez foiled Miguel Layún’s last-gasp chance to be a hero and became the first goalie to blank América in 28 games.

Rodríguez made three brilliant saves on the night, none more important than that two-fisted block off Layún’s right boot in minute 90+6.

The 34-year-old journeyman was only making the start since Tigres held out Nahuel Guzmán to prevent his fifth yellow card of the season which would have cost the enigmatic Argentine the first leg of the quarterfinals.

The 0-0 result at a soggy “El Volcán” meant little in the Liga MX standings as both clubs had already sewn up their playoff seedings (América No. 1, the defending champion Tigres No. 3). Several starters were held out for precautionary measures but the football was attractive.

Twenty-year-old Marcelo Flores got his first Liga MX start in place of Sebastián Córdova because the Tigres playmaker was held out to avoid picking up a fifth yellow card. The hosts opened without two additional starters on the sidelines for the same reason – winger Diego Lainez and goalie Nahuel Guzmán.

The absences stripped the game – a potential Finals preview – of much of its luster, and a postseason rematch would be no surprise. Both clubs demonstrated they are capable of making deep playoff runs.

In steady rain, title claimants take no prisoners

Right from the opening whistle, the two contenders threw haymakers, skittering across the slippery pitch with probing runs – though mostly speculative. Tigres were the most successful.

Early on, Team México back-up goalie Luis Malagón produced two wonderful saves for América, the first off a Samir Caetano power-header, then short-hopping a cross as Ozziel Herrera clattered into him.

There were several hard fouls during the opening 25 minutes though just one yellow card was issued (to Samir in minute 24). América was whistled for six fouls in the game’s first 30 minutes.

Just before the break, Aguilas midfield wizard Álvaro Fidalgo was denied when the aforementioned Rodríguez bundled the Spaniard’s low blast around the near post.

That was the only shot América – top-scoring club in Liga MX with 37 goals – would get on target in there first half.

Fidalgo was the villain again 10 minutes after the restart, missing a glorious chance to put “Los AzulCremas” ahead, firing just wide of the far post after Jonathan Rodríguez led a 70-yard breakout off a Tigres corner kick.

Nine minutes later, Rodríguez (Carlos, this time) was at it again, getting his big right mitt on a Sebastián Cáceres shot from inside the box.

For much of the second half, Tigres controlled the tempo while América was content to sit back and chase the counter-attack.

The hosts created several good scoring opportunities throughout, the latest coming 10 minutes before full time, but Malagón again stood tall. The El Tri keeper blocked a close-range rocket off the right foot of André-Pierre Gignac.

Tigres winger Luis Quiñones had escaped down the right flank and his cross into the slot found Gignac breaking free of his marker at the near post. The Frenchman’s controlled first touch allowed him to turn toward goal and take aim, but Malagón was in position for the acrobatic save.

During the final 10 minutes, both sides took turns making frantic runs forward with little purpose until Rodríguez was called upon with Layún bearing down on him.

Next up: The Liguilla

Tigres and América must now wait to discover their respective quarterfinals opponent until after the Play-In Tournament (featuring seeds 7 through 10). But that three-game series won’t take place until after the FIFA break.

The Aguilas finished atop the Liga MX table with 40 points, from a 12-4-1 record that includes a 16-game unbeaten streak. The title-holders come in at third, the team’s 8-6-3 record producing 30 points.

As mentioned above, América 37 goals led Liga MX. Tigres’ 32 goals was third-best. The Aguilas also lay claim to the top defense, conceding just 14 goals in 17 games.