It was no secret Chivas had been struggling to score goals, and it was the same story for the first 82 minutes of the Liguilla semifinal first leg against Toluca Thursday.
Then, the Guadalajara side got a big boost from two players coming off injuries, with Angel Zaldivar's shot deflecting and falling for Rodolfo Pizarro who opened the scoring.
While coach Matias Almeyda will be frustrated with the fact that his team conceded minutes later to Fernando Uribe on a free kick, settling for a 1-1 draw, getting two of his attacking weapons back on the field and seeing them come together for an away goal will fills the Argentine with confidence his team can find another home victory and move into the final.
Neither player started, and the team had the same issues. It created chances it couldn't finish. It had opportunities to find forward Alan Pulido that it ignored. It earned set pieces that came close but didn't solidify into a goal.
Pizarro's entrance just before the hour mark immediately changed things as he was able to stretch Toluca right back Rodrigo Salinas with his runs down the left side. Zaldivar coming on moments later gave Pulido more support. Getting both of those attacking weapons back on the field for longer stints would be enormous for Almeyda, and things seem to be trending that way with Pizarro's stint against Atlas being followed with Thursday's minutes and Zaldivar also being brought along slowly.
"We're a little unsatisfied, we'd gone ahead and it wa a good result but unfortunately they tied us on a set piece," Zaldivar said after the match. "But it's good because we scored an away goal and now they have to try to kill us off (in Guadalajara)."
There is less enthusiasm for Almeyda's compatriot Hernan Cristante, the Toluca coach. The Red Devils failed to win at home for the fifth time in a row, and dreams of a title win as the capstone for their centennial celebrations are looking less realistic after the first leg. Toluca isn't a bad team, but it is a team that lacks any real identity.
You can draw two distinct things watching Toluca: The Red Devils rely heavily on goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera to keep them from conceding after sloppy play at the back, and they pressure nearly every goal kick forcing teams to play deep. Against some teams during the regular season, this strategy was enough to squeak by. Other times, attackers are able to make enough of an individual effort to result in a win like last week's 4-1 thrashing of Santos in Torreon. But while Toluca benefited from getting Rubens Sambueza and Enrique Triverio back from suspensions at the start of the postseason, it is still clear that the team has no coherent idea.
Of course, the nature of a two-legged playoff series means that while Toluca will be on the back foot in Estadio Chivas, where they've avoided defeat in their last dozen games including in Toluca's visit during the league, picking up a couple away goals would be enough to get them through.
"It's true that we're doing better away from home, so nothing is lost," Cristante said. "Today's game was a complicated game where neither of the two teams gave anything away. I think the match there has the mark of a game that's going to be very similar but to get the ticket to the final we'll have to make the difference."
Chivas will have plenty of faith that it can stop that from happening. Even with injuries keeping center back Jair Pereira and winger Isaac Brizuela out of the Liguilla, Pizarro and Zaldivar are the most important pieces. If they're able to change the deciding leg in the way they did the first, Chivas will continue marching toward a cup and league double.