Club America started the first leg of its quarterfinal against Toluca about as well as possible Thursday, with Emanuel Aguilera heading in a goal in the seventh minute. Then, America let it slip away.
Alexis Vega's stoppage-time goal punished the Mexico City club's lax approach to the contest, as the game ended in a 2-2 draw that sends the series back to the Estadio Azteca with anyone still able to advance.
Vega put together a strong season and his goal, sending three America defenders the wrong way to push into the box unobstructed and then putting his finish past Agustin Marchesin, showed many of the reasons Mexico national team fans have been frustrated the 21-year-old hasn't been given his first cap.
America actually had done a decent job on the young forward, though. It was the rest of the Red Devils they'd struggled with. America played with fire and got burned. Toluca had almost 70 percent of the possession and managed to earn an eye-popping 15 corner kicks to America's two. Toluca's first goal came on one of those occasions. After Aguilera's goal, America switched off and Toluca had a flurry of chances. The home side was able to convert one of those, with Rubens Sambueza receiving the short corner and putting in a picture-perfect service for Fernando Tobio to head in.
Las Aguilas are good in the air, which was evidenced by the goals from Aguilera and Bruno Valdez. Yet, give any team 15 chances to score from the corner and chances are they'll take advantage. America manager Miguel Herrera will be even more frustrated by the fact that he looked to shut things down when up a goal, bringing on Joe Corona for Oribe Peralta for a more conservative look. It had the opposite effect, with Toluca relentlessly attacking, and eventually getting its reward with the excellent goal from Vega.
¡AAAAAPAGUEN TODO. GOLAAAAZO. GOLAAAAAZO. GOLAAAAAAAAZO DE ALEEEEXIS VEGA! 😈🔥⚽️
Nada está dicho en esta serie de Cuartos ☝️@TolucaFC 2-2 @ClubAmerica pic.twitter.com/LNBLBsEnhY — Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) November 30, 2018
After the match, Herrera expressed frustration with the referee, saying Andoni Escobedo, who entered the match after Marco Ortiz had to make way with an injury, shouldn't have added six minutes at the end of the contest. Privately, he must be expressing his frustration with his defenders, who decided to stop playing after five minutes of stoppage time.
Overall, America was just sloppy. Herrera's decision to play with five defenders actually wasn't a bad one. Sambueza and the Toluca attack were stymied at times, but ultimately between getting the set-piece goal and the Vega moment of magic it was successful thanks to its relentless pressure.
America couldn't string together passes and couldn't find any sort of danger from open play to deter Toluca from going all out for the equalizer. Herrera wanted to get an away goal, though, and defend it. He ended up with two, but his team couldn't keep Toluca from getting its goals as well.
That means the series is there for the Mexico City side to win. With a pair of away goals and the advantage of being the better seed (meaning America would go through in the event of a 2-2 draw in the second leg as well), a home draw would almost certainly be enough to get Herrera's team into the semifinals. They'll have to be more focused, not letting their concentration lapse and not giving Toluca as many opportunities next time around.