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Liga MX final: Leon book title showdown with Tigres

USMNT's Gregg Berhalter praises the Mexican federation for its success in CONCACAF and says the organization has set the benchmark for MLS and U.S. Soccer.

The Liga MX 2019 Clausura final is set. Here's how the matchups are shaking out:

Semifinals matchups: 

- (1) Leon def. (5) America (Leon advance)

- (2) Tigres def. (3) Monterrey (Tigres advance)

Final Matchup:

- (1) Leon vs. (2) Tigres

    - First Leg at Tigres: Thursday, May 23, 9:45 p.m. ET

    - Second Leg at Leon: Sunday, May 26, 9:06 p.m. ET


(1)  LEON def. (5) CLUB AMERICA (Leon advance)

First leg: America 0-1 Leon

Second leg: Leon 0-1 America

Note: Due to pollution concerns in Mexico City, the first leg was moved from Club America's home of Estadio Azteca to Queretaro, 136 miles from the city. 

Leon hasn't looked like wobbling all season, but was made to dig deep to remain standing after Club America's late assault to qualify for the Liga MX final, despite losing 1-0 to Las Aguilas on Sunday.

Bruno Valdez headed in from a corner in the sixth minute to make it a perfect start for reigning champion America, who began the game with intent and was very much the better side in the first half. It looked as though Leon's near-perfect season --15 wins from 19 games -- would be coming to an end.

But Leon coach "Nacho" Ambriz introduced young midfielder Ivan Rodriguez at half-time, taking a risk on him playing through his ankle injury. And it worked. America had sliced through the midfield partnership of Rubens Sambueza and Luis Montes with ease in the first 45, with neither providing much protection for the defense.

Leon also had its chances, however, with Angel Mena bright down the wing and Jose Juan Macias -- who is set to miss the final to play in the Under-20 World Cup -- causing America problems, without finding the back of the net.

The result could've been different, but America strikers Nico Castillo and Roger Martinez produced very little, with the threat mainly coming from down the wings through Renato Ibarra and Andres Ibarguen.

The game turned chaotic after first Sambueza (76th) and then America's Guido Rodriguez (86th) were sent off after receiving their second yellow cards, but Leon held on to reach the final.

The series against Tigres pits the top two teams in the regular season, with each only losing two of 17 games.

Leon will be going for title number eight, while Tigres are currently on seven.


(2) TIGRES def. (3) MONTERREY (Tigres advance)

First leg: Monterrey 1-0 Tigres

Second leg: Tigres 1-0 Monterrey

It was heartbreaking start to May for Tigres, with Ricardo Ferretti's side losing the CONCACAF Champions League final to Monterrey. But the university team got some early revenge by overcoming Rayados 1-0 in the Liga MX semifinal on Saturday to reach the final on an emotional night in Estadio Universitario, which had been rocked by the passing of Tigres club legend Osvaldo Batocletti on Friday.

Once again, there was little between the two northern powerhouses. Coming into the game 1-0 down from the first leg, Tigres sought to take the game to a Monterrey side looking to sit back and soak up pressure inside the sweltering Estadio Universitario.

The reward came just before half-time when Eduardo Vargas laid a pass into Guido Pizarro's path and the Argentine headed both the ball into the net and then Monterrey winger Jesus Gallardo. Pizarro attempted to carry on, but looked dazed and was removed at half-time.

Tiredness set in after the break, with both these sides having played 23 games in the last 94 days -- an average of one every four days -- and the tide turned as Tigres sat deeper and Monterrey began to take control of the game.

Rogelio Funes Mori and Rodolfo Pizarro spawned solid chances, while Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman stood up to the heat and was player of the game, keeping waves of Monterrey attacks at bay.

With the 1-1 score over the 180 minutes -- Tigres advanced due to their higher finishing position in the regular season table -- and that was a fair reflection of the reality how evenly matched these two sides are, even if the intensity of the CONCACAF Champions League final was missing.

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