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Toluca shows fighting spirit in draw
The comprehensive and sweeping manner of the setback to the league leaders at La Bombonera underscored the rickety first steps in a season yet to truly commence. Toluca played six matches and scooped points occasionally along the way, but the emphasis appeared to fall on the impending Copa Libertadores burdens instead of the current Liga MX duties.
By shifting its focus toward South America, Toluca increased expectations for its foray into Group 1 against Barcelona (Ecuador), Boca Juniors and Nacional (Uruguay). And the heavy defeat to Tigres suggested the looming trip to Buenos Aires presented a challenge too formidable to overcome.
Sinha ensured that theory dissipated by end of a stunning 2-1 victory in Argentina on Wednesday night. Santiago Silva placed the heavily favored home side ahead from the spot after 22 minutes, but the visitors did not drop their heads or stop their search for an equalizer. Carlos Rodriguez saw his tamely struck penalty saved six minutes after halftime in a bid to level. Sinha subsequently played Carlos Esquivel through with a sumptuous lob over the top to restore parity just before the hour mark.
The evergreen midfielder – the fulcrum for everything positive Toluca accomplishes in possession – eventually settled matters by obtaining the ball in the middle third and playing a perfectly weighted ball to expose the high Boca line. Edgar Benítez caught out Boca goalkeeper Agustin Orión with a clever chip to send Toluca back to Mexico with the full complement of points.
Another inspired performance on Saturday permitted Toluca to capture yet another unexpected result against high-flying Club América. Not even the effervescent form of Raúl Jímenez – scorer of another wonderfully technical goal to open América's account in this entertaining 2-2 draw – could stop Toluca from sustaining its nascent revival.
The influential contributions on this day came not from Sinha, but from set pieces. Diego Novaretti opened the scoring with a powerful header inside the far post. Gerardo Rodríguez closed it by drifting free on a throw-in and smashing home the resulting cross seconds before the final whistle.
More of the same over the next few months will see Toluca shake free from its indifferent start to the Clausura and take control of its Copa Libertadores destiny. It will take a bit of fortune – including continued health for Sinha and the sustained ability of this relatively thin squad to navigate the exacting demands ahead – to prolong this admittedly brief uptick in results over the long haul. Fortunately for Meza and his players, they have now started their season in earnest and have showed the necessary resolve to muster the necessary displays on a regular basis.
Around Liga MX – Jornada 7
Club Tijuana prepared for its Copa Libertadores bow by suffering a second consecutive league defeat at struggling Jaguares. Luis Gabriel Rey tallied twice in the second half to sidetrack the Xolos' preparations for Tuesday's trip to face Millonarios in Colombia. Tijuana boss Antonio Mohamed included most of his regulars for this unanticipated defeat in Chiapas even with the excursion to Bogotá on tap for midweek.
Tigres failed to take advantage of the setbacks incurred by América and Tijuana and instead settled for a 1-1 home draw with Santos Laguna. Carlos Darwin Quintero and Juninho swapped first half goals as Tigres dropped its first points of the Clausura.
Atlas showed no such leniency to the sides at the top of the table by dispatching Monterrey 2-1 in Guadalajara. Former Mexico international Omar Bravo scored nine minutes into the second half to lift Tomas Boy's side to joint second in the table.
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Bravo's heroics also increased Atlas' lead in the relegation table to nine points after Querétaro shipped a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Atlante. Luis Ángel Landín opened the scoring with a controversial second-half effort – including valid shouts for offside and handball – to throw the visitors a crucial lifeline in Cancun. Joe Bizera poached the equalizer four minutes into second-half stoppage time to dash those hopes and hand Atlante a share of the points. Queretaro must now collect the maximum haul against Atlas at Estadio Corregidora next Saturday to maintain any reasonable chance of closing the gap in the relegation fight.
The margins remain far closer in the battle for the Liguilla positioning. Pachuca climbed to joint fourth with a 2-1 home win over previously unbeaten Cruz Azul. Felix Borja and Marco Fabián traded goals within a minute to leave Puebla two points behind in sixth place after a 1-1 home draw with C.D. Guadalajara. Pumas now sits tied with Santos Laguna for the eighth and final spot after a 1-0 home victory over Morelia.
Perhaps the most cathartic breakthrough occurred in the lower reaches of the table as Club León finally notched its first victory of the Clausura. Edwin William Hernández and Yovanny Arrechea converted either side of halftime to propel León to a 2-0 home win over bottom-of-the-table San Luis.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.