DAVID SMITH - Friday, May 27, 2016
Omar Gonzalez and Pachuca stifled Monterrey's weakened attack on Thursday evening, riding a Franco Jara goal to a narrow first-leg edge in the Liguilla final.
Monterrey's Edgar Castillo fell out of the team's starting lineup, and was an unused substitute throughout the duration.
The visitors, who scored a league's best 38 goals in the Clausura regular season, came into the game with a major hole in the attack, as Uruguayan winger Carlos Sanchez was absent due to national team duty.
While the remainder of Monterrey's front line did still look a cohesive unit, their major bite will absent, with the hosts slightly on the front foot for most of the game.
Moments before the half, Pachuca's Oscar Murillo went down with what appeared to be a groin injury, and the fact that their central defense stalwart did not return for the second half will be a major sign for concern.
After a balanced first half, los Tuzos had a strong shout for a penalty at the 55-minute mark when Jonathan Urretaviscaya's goalward shot was bounced off the arm of Efrain Juarez at the goal-line. The referee, however, signaled that it had hit his chest, a call that was clearly wrong according to video replays.
Then at the hour mark, Pachuca took the lead when Erick Gutierrez teed up a picture-perfect cross from just outside the upper left corner of the box, which Jara headed back across the six-yard box to the upper left corner for the 1-0 lead.
The heavy rains did hinder play on a slippery surface, and the result held for the final half-hour giving the hosts the edge.
The two teams will meet again in Monterrey on Sunday evening, with slightly more pressure on los Tuzos to hold their hosts in check should they have any chance at securing their sixth title.
As away goals do not serve as a tiebreaker in the Liguilla final, so Pachuca need a draw or outright win to clinch the title in regular time. With Gonzalez's central defense partner Murillo now in doubt for the game, Monterrey will like their chances of overturning the deficit and cruising to the win.