We watch soccer for the enjoyment, for the thrill and for how the action puts us on the edge of our seats. In the last two weeks, Toluca fans have been on the edge of their seats enough to last them two seasons.
Tended up with a 4-1 victory Sunday and a 5-3 aggregate over Tijuana with a Fernando Uribe hat trick sending the Superlider into the final against either Santos Laguna or Club America.
Toluca deserves to be there. The Red Devils have been the best team in the league this season, with Hernan Cristante engineering a long winning streak during the season that was snapped only when injuries and a desire to rest up regulars ahead of the playoffs caught up with the Argentine manager.
Despite the regular season dominance, there have been nervous moments in both playoff series for Toluca fans to suffer through. Sunday saw a nine-man Tijuana draw level on aggregate thanks to a free-kick goal from Luis Chavez in the 66th minute
For 20 minutes, the crowd in the Nemasio Diez was left to sweat with Xolos just one goal away from the final and pushing to find that goal despite their two-man disadvantage. At the 70th minute, a song Toluca fans always sing with 20 minutes to go brought some calm, but it was back to worrying until the 86th minute when Uribe completed his hat trick. Pablo Barrientos put the icing on the cake two minutes later with Uribe returning the favor and assisting the final goal of the series.
Last weekend, Toluca fans also were stressed - though this time late goals caused them to fret rather than bringing them comfort. With Toluca holding a 4-2 aggregate advantage, Monarcas scored twice in stoppage time to bring the series level, with Toluca going through thanks to the tiebreaker of a better regular-season finish.
Toluca fans will be willing to forgive their team for the frightening moments, both Sunday and the week before. The Red Devils are in the Liga MX final for the first time since the 2012 Apertura.
Leonel Lopez's return from injury freed Antonio Rios up in the first half, and he was able to play a beautiful cross for Uribe to head in early in the match. That took the pressure off Toluca with Uribe on the board again in the 31st minute thanks to a trademark left-footed ball from Sambueza that Caneo chested to himself and then applied a stunning overhead finish.
¡GOOOOOL! (30’) | ¡No-no-no, No es un GOL, es un GOLAZOOO! Fernando Uribe como los DIOSES.
Gran asistencia de Sambu . y Uribe de CHILENA @TolucaFC 2-0 @Xolos (3-2) #TOLvsTIJ pic.twitter.com/td1rffTv2h — Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) May 13, 2018
With Alexis Canelo out because of injury, Uribe knew the scoring burden would have to fall on him as Toluca looked to overturn a 2-1 disadvantage after the first leg. His late goal at the Estadio Caliente made the job that much easier. Sambueza also upped his game after a quiet first leg. America has a lot of work to do to get into the final, but it would be poetic justice for the 34-year-old who Las Aguilas discarded to lift a title after beating the team who pushed him aside.
There can be debate whether that was the right move for the Mexico City giants, but there's no question it was the right move for Toluca to scoop him up. His three regular-season assists fell well short of the standard he's set (he had nine in the Apertura), but Sambueza has done more than just put in crosses. He's deadly on set pieces and has done more this season to associate with Uribe and Barrientos, bringing both into games.
The chemistry between the attackers was on display Sunday, with Toluca easily erasing the deficit it faced. There were the moments of panic between Chavez's goal and Toluca finally killing it off, but ultimately the worry went away and Toluca fans were off to celebrate the victory and get ready for the final.
As the No. 1 seed, the final will be decided on Toluca's home turf. For their fans sake, they'll need to work on being just a little less exciting.