Heading into the postseason, there was some chatter that Andre-Pierre Gignac was losing steam for Tigres.
After scoring 11 goals in his debut campaign in Mexico, the 2015 Apertura, and winning the Golden Boot with 13 in the spring's Clausura, the 30-year-old had just five goals entering the Liguilla and didn't even lead Tigres in scoring.
Not since September had Gignac scored, and while he was instrumental in a 2-2 draw with Pumas in the first leg of the quarterfinal round, the goals were still lacking from the Frenchman. That all changed in the second leg, when Gignac fired in a hat trick and led the line in a 5-0 romp at the "Volcan," Tigres' home stadium.
Neither team ever looked like scoring multiple goals in the first leg of Tigres' semifinal against Leon, and Gignac's teammates frequently misfired when they could've extended the lead that he gave the team with a goal after taking three touches in the 56th minute. But once again it's Gignac the hero, and his side goes back to the Volcan not only with a lead in the series but a crucial away goal.
Gignac is finding his best form at the right time, just as he did when Tigres won the Apertura championship a year ago. He scored four goals in six matches on the road to the title. Last tournament was harder for the club, and he failed to find the back of the net in either leg of a quarterfinal loss to Monterrey. But this time around, he's on pace to better his goal tally from the championship season and has shown he's the scorer Tigres can rely upon.
Liga MX has a quirk in the playoffs, which is that when the ball starts rolling in the first leg, one of the teams already has the advantage. Better position in the regular season is the second tiebreaker, behind only away goals, so Leon needed to do something with its first leg — something like it did in the quarterfinals.
In the previous round, Leon smashed three past Tijuana and took a commanding lead to the second leg, but didn't look up for the second leg, allowing Tijuana to draw level by the break. Coach Javier Torrente's men eventually found a pair of goals to go through, but Wednesday it again looked like the occasion may be too big for them.
That's OK. Leon was in last place at one point in the season, while Tigres in their current form always are going to be title contenders. Getting this team into the semifinals will be a success for Torrente in his first tournament in charge. There's no doubt, however, that the occasion wasn't too large for Gignac, who lifted his team to an important advantage and will be ready to do the same in the second leg.