The first leg of an all Liga MX CONCACAF Champions League Final saw La Maquina Cementera of Cruz Azul and Los Diablos Rojos of Toluca play to a nil-nil draw, but there was excitement in the opening match, and the weather in Mexico City made for some interesting chances as the match went on.
Coming into the match, we knew Cruz Azul would have the more captivating of story lines, with starting goalkeeper Jesus Corona out of the final with a three-match ban stemming from a rd card suffered in stoppage time in the second leg of the CCL semifinal vs. Xolos. Guillermo Allison took to the net in Chuy Corona's stead, and it was not ideal conditions for the young goalkeeper in Estadio Azul. It was raining steady and heavily before kickoff, and didn't begin to taper off until closer to halftime, but wet conditions throughout the match made what could be considered as routine saves much more difficult, and lent itself to more second time chances for players crashing the net. Despite both sides testing the keepers from distance, neither was able to break the deadlock and come out with an advantage heading to the second leg on April 23rd.
The rain seemed to affect more than just the goalkeepers early on, with a lot of possession being given up by both sides in dangerous areas due to poor first touches and errant passes on the wet ground. The first real chance of the match came in the 35th minute, when a cleared cross came to Cruz Azul captain Gerrardo Torrado, whose shot from outside the 18 yard box forcing Talavera into a save. Talavera gave up the rebound to Marco Fabian crashing the net, only for the linesman to raise his flag for offsides, as Fabian was a clear yard in front of Toluca's final defender.
An opportunity would be had by Los Diablos in the 44th minute as Carlos Esquivel shot into the box, and Cruz Azul keeper Allison was forced into a save only to give up a second chance to an awaiting Tiago. Allison did well to make a second save. Soon after the first half came to a close, but not without some clear chances for either team to take a lead into the locker room.
At halftime, the stat battle was nearly split down the middle while Toluca had the majority of chances with three shots from six total finding the target, to Cruz Azul's one in five shots. Duels won went just slightly to Cruz Azul's favor with 27 wins to Toluca's 23, and although Toluca had better of the possesion with 55.7% to their rival's 44.4%, Cruz Azul had slightly the better pass accuracy at 84.5% to Toluca's 83.0%.
The rain subsided to start the second half, both teams seemed to have waken up a bit to the idea that more shots will lead to more second-time chances, given the challenges the goalkeepers have faced in the opening 45 minutes.
Marco Fabian opened up the chances in the second half for Cruz Azul at the 54th minute as he connected off of the end of a Rogelio Chavez cross by way of a pretty half volley while falling backward toward the turf. Unfortunately the stylish first-time shot wasn't pretty enough, as Fabian failed to hit the target and Toluca's net minder Alfredo Talavera watched the ball soar over his goal post. There would be no early second half advantage for Cruz Azul, and the deadlock continued.
Toluca midfielder Juan Manuel Salguiero responded with a chance of his own in the 56th minute as he tested Guillermo Allison with a shot well outside the box that just narrowly missed the frame. Allison feigned confidence the whole way and let the ball go over his net without a touch but the shot was closer with a second look. However, not close enough. The chances would continue for Toluca as Esquivel sent a cross into the box looking for Pablo Velasquez that swung in close enough to the keeper Allison to allow him to make a save off of his line. As in the first half, Allison's save fell to a striker for a scoring opportunity, but once again the netminder did well to make the crucial second save, allowing for the Cruz Azul defense to clear the danger.
The closing minutes of the match proved to be the most exciting of the night, as Antonio Rios takes a hard shot outside the 18 yard box that cracks off the right post of Allison's goal. Cruz Azul responded with a flurry of their own into stoppage time, as second half subs Emana and Gimenez combined some nice one-two passes with Fabian to spring Gimenez free in the box to have a shot on goal. Talavera Made a great initial reflex save that fell to a trailing Marco Fabian that the Toluca keeper was also able to keep out of the back of the net. The Toluca defense was able to comfortably clear the danger from their own third, and the final whistle was blown very shortly after.
A slow start for the first leg of the CCL final, but by no means was it a disappointing end. The last half hour opened up and became an end-to-end encounter that gave Cruz Azul a few favorable counter attacks that ultimately came to nothing.
Cruz Azul fell short of their goal to go into Estadio Nemesio Díaz with a goal advantage, and with their current history of losing the away leg of these CCL match ups, La Maquina Celeste will have their work cut out for them come next week. Toluca, on the other hand, wanted to leave Estadio Azul with an away goal, but being able to go home without a deficit to make up will undoubtedly play to Toluca's favor. It will be an exciting end to the tournament, and it is still anyone's trophy to take. Will Cruz Azul continue their tradition of falling just short of winning silverware, or will Toluca add to their two CONCACAF Champions League titles? I know who I'm rooting for, but the task may prove too big for the team who's battled with the "always the bridesmaid" trophy drought.