DAVID SMITH - Monday, May 23, 2016
A pair of remarkable, down-to-the-wire semifinal second legs set up a Liguilla final clash between Omar Gonzalez's Pachuca and Edgar Castillo's Monterrey.
CF Monterrey 4 - 2 Club América (agg. 4-3)
Edgar Castillo played the full 90 minutes in the back line for Monterrey on Saturday evening, helping the team to a wild 4-2 win over Club América that put them into the Liguilla final.
Coming into the home leg with a 1-0 deficit following the first game, Monterrey were in a delicate position of needing an outright win, and little room for error with no away goals on their side.
They quickly put themselves in a fine position to advance when Edwin Cardona, who was earlier selected to Colombia's 23 for the tournament, connected from outside the area in the 27th minute, and then Gabriel Funes Mori put away a brilliant setup from Carlos Sánchez four minutes after halftime.
América's Michael Arroyo proved deadly on set pieces, putting one past keeper Jonathan Orozco in the 63rd minute to cut the deficit to 2-1 and give his team the upper hand on away goals.
While a 77th minute strike from Sánchez momentarily put Monterrey back in pole position, another beauty from Arroyo four minutes later restored América's hope in the final minutes.
Needing a goal by any means to secure advancement, Monterrey were handed a lifeline when Paolo Goltz was sent off in the closing minutes for a pair of yellows, and then an unfortunate handball in the area by Miguel Samudio moments later gave Edwin Cardona the opportunity to restore the two-goal advantage.
A second red for the visitors, this time to Osvaldo Martinez, effectively killed América's chances of creating any further last-minute drama, with the final 4-2 scoreline giving Monterrey the overall 4-3 aggregate win and a place in the final.
CF Pachuca 2 - 1 Club Leon (agg. 3-2)
Another evening of drama in the Liguilla semifinal saw Omar Gonzalez set up Pachuca's winning goal well into injury time, as Los Tuzos booked their spot in the final.
William Yarbrough manned the nets for the visitors in the losing effort.
Pachuca held a slight edge heading into the second leg, with the 1-1 draw at Leon three days earlier putting all of the pressure on their opponents to nick an away goal.
Their position improved after just 22 minutes when Leon's Diego Novaretti couldn't handle the pressure from Jonathan Urretaviscaya, and deflected the ball past Yarbrough into his own net for an embarrassing own goal.
Leon were still very much within strike distance, and put everything back on even terms at the hour mark, when Elías Hernández dipped a shot into the top left corner out of the reach of Oscar Pérez.
With the aggregate balanced at the end of regulation, the game looked headed to an additional 30 minutes, until Pachuca pulled out a miracle deep into injury time.
Gonzalez fought for possession just inside the Pachuca half of the field and beat his man to head the ball forward into the attacking end.
20 year-old attacker Hirving Lozano, who had just been named to Mexico's final squad for the Copa América, was in perfect position to gain control, and streak the length of the field past the last defender before beating Yarbrough with a nice right-footed poke just inside the area for the dramatic winner.
Leon desperately lunged forward in the last seconds before the final whistle, only to see a last-gasp attempt from distance by Maximiliano Morález saved in the final seconds, with the whistle confirming Pachuca's dramatic win.
Gonzalez and Castillo, both of whom missed the final cut for Jürgen Klinsmann's Copa América roster, will now see their teams face off in the two-game final which will decide the champion of the 2016 Clausura. The first leg will take place on Thursday in Pachuca, followed by a Sunday-night return fixture in Monterrey.