Liga MX final: Tigres look to cement their legacy; Leon eye storybook ending
LEON, Mexico -- Ten years ago this month, Tigres stared relegation in the face.
Approaching the last round of matches of the 2009 Clausura, the Monterrey-based club had to rely on Club America not being defeated by Necaxa to remain in Mexico's first division. Las Aguilas did them the favor and got the victory.
Perhaps nothing highlights the meteoric rise of the northern club more than how close it came to relegation only a decade ago. If that Necaxa result had gone the other way, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti might never have been hired, Alejandro Rodriguez and Miguel Angel Garza might not have taken over the running of the club, and the serious spending of owners CEMEX, which has shaken up the Mexican game, might never have happened. Without it, Tigres could be stuck on two titles.
Ten years on, Tigres have a very different "problem" ahead of the Liga MX final second leg against Leon. Tigres go into the game as favorites, with a 1-0 advantage from Thursday's first leg and will have to manage the pressure and expectation that come with being a team that spends big money.
On Sunday, Tigres have the chance to confirm their status as Liga MX team of the decade, to enshrine Ferretti's Tigres as one of the all-time most recognizable teams in Mexican football, to at least be in the same conversation with Leon's championship-winning team in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Chivas' Campeonisimo era, Cruz Azul in the 1970s and America's great 1980s team.
French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac equaled Tomas Boy as Tigres' joint-record scorer in the first leg. A goal from the 33-year-old on Sunday and another Liga MX title -- it'd be his fourth since arriving in 2015 -- would consolidate his position as one of Mexico's greatest foreign imports, even if surpassing Pumas' Cabinho is unlikely.
While the talk about Mexico's "big four" -- Cruz Azul, Pumas, Chivas and America -- might get repetitive, it does feel significant that Tigres would draw level on seven titles with Pumas (as well as Leon) if they manage to lift the trophy.
On the other side, Leon's fans would lament not winning the trophy, but this Clausura has already exceeded expectations. The historic 12-game win streak, the delightful form of Clausura MVP Angel Mena and the way Ignacio Ambriz has flipped his reputation from a slightly cautious head coach to one who lets the handbrake off have made for a great season, regardless of what happens on Sunday.
The fans will play their part. This is a one-team city located between Guadalajara and Mexico City and one with huge local pride in the football team. With the small 30,000-person capacity, the seats close to the pitch and the bowl-shaped stadium keeping the noise contained, Estadio Leon is one of the more intense places to play in Mexico as an away side.
La Fiera would move level with Cruz Azul and ahead of Pumas on eight titles if it can overturn the 1-0 first-leg deficit, and there is no away goal rule, which should only encourage Leon to attack from the first whistle.
The scene is set. Leon can throw caution to the wind and hope to cause an upset, and Tigres need this title to end any doubt about which team has been Mexico's best over the past 10 years.