We call it clutch, that intangible that causes some players perform better when there's something on the line.
Whatever it is, Javier "Chuleta" Orozco had it Thursday night. The Santos Laguna forward scored a first-half hat trick en route to four goals in a 5-0 victory for Santos Laguna over Queretaro in the first leg of the Liga MX Clausura final. Never before has there been such a lopsided Liga MX final first leg, and Victor Vucetich - the man with a golden touch after losing only one of more than a dozen finals teams he's managed have been involved in - seems destined to drop this championship.
Orozco performing to that level was unlikely. It was his first multi-goal match of the season, and he hadn't scored a single goal heading into the final weekend of the year. He excelled then too, scoring Santos' opener with playoff qualification on the line and helping the team draw with a Puebla side battling to stay in the first division. No more than a week later, he was on the mark again with the first goal of a tie with No. 1 seed Tigres. The first leg finished 1-1 and Santos went through after a second-leg win.
The variable here for the inconsistent forward finding the back of the net is, of course, the pressure being on. Santos entered the Grand Final looking like the favorite but was facing a Vucetich team that has been composed during the postseason, even after Ronaldinho brought controversy onto the club with his early exit in the first leg of the semifinal. The Gallos Blancos looked disciplined in the second leg of the semifinal, but Santos picked up where it left off in a strong performance against Chivas in the second leg.
While Orozco elevating his game didn't seem to have any reason other than the stakes being high, it wasn't too tough to diagnose what happened on a few of the goals. Queretaro's defending was especially poor on a free kick awarded on a long backpass. Orozco, despite already having a goal and being a threat in the air, was allowed a free header and didn't make any error.
Another component to his 'poker', the nickname for scoring four of a kind, was rising Santos star Djaniny, who set up Orozco with a tap-in for the fifth-minute opener that gave him the momentum to add more.
The final isn't over, but even the most cautious player on either side can't help but minimize the influence of the second leg. Statistical analysis from ESPN has Santos' chance of lifting the trophy at 99%. Scoring five goals would be tough enough for Queretaro, and even as the game settled and Roanldinho came in, Thursday's visitors struggled to generate any threats. When they did, goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin made a handful of highlight-reel saves.
It would take a colassal collapse for Santos not to win the title, and the Guerreros have clutch Chuleta to thank for allowing them to rest easy .