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Landon Donovan who? Club Leon attack firing on all cylinders ahead of Cruz Azul contest

00:37 SAST 2018/01/20
Landon Donovan Leon
Though a star attacking reinforcement is coming, the back line will determine if the club can continue its hot start

Landon Donovan is walking through that door.

Club Leon's announcement late Friday that the American legend would join the club earned headlines in the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom and all around the world. A day later, the team's attackers followed up with a different statement: Donovan may be coming, but we don't need him.

Leon put three past Toluca in a victory that made the team two for two, one of just a pair of clubs in Liga MX to win their first two matches so far. This weekend, it's another meeting with an undefeated team when Leon travels to meet Cruz Azul in Mexico City.

There doesn't seem to be any animosity toward Leon bringing in Donovan, and both sides know he won't come in and take anyone's starting spot . The club would be in trouble if it was relying on a 35-year-old coming out of retirement to provide the goals, but thankfully for fans in El Bajio, Leon is already plenty strong up front. The attacking quartet of Mauro Boselli, Elias Hernandez, Luis Montes and Andres Andrade each have a goal apiece in the young season, with right back Fernando Navarro adding the fifth. In many ways, they're picking up where they left off last tournament. Leon's 27 regular-season goals trailed only finalists Monterrey and Tigres, and Boselli's 11 tied him atop the scoring charts.

The addition of Giles Barnes, who after playing with Orlando City in MLS last season will be ready to see the field well before Donovan, and the further integration of Chilean forward Alvaro Ramos gives depth to the Leon attack. All of it has functioned well since Gustavo Diaz took over as manager midway through the last tournament and oversaw a transition from the bottom of the league to a playoff berth. Leon was eliminated in the first round by eventual champion Tigres.

Diaz, a 43-year-old former defender, must be pleased at how his attackers get at teams. After playing a high-pressing style with previous manager Javier Torrente, Diaz involved attackers in defending in a different way. Rather than pressure the ball relentlessly, the wingers are asked to come back into the midfield more often to stop opposing attacks. He also acceded to playing on the counterattack more often. Leon's first goal Sunday came from a counter with Boselli holding up the ball with his back to the goal, opening space for Hernandez to find a lane on the right.   

Though the offseason signings have focused on the attack, Diaz will be more concerned with reinforcing the back. Though Navarro gives him the flexibility to move pieces around in his defense (the goal came when Navarro had moved to the left side to help detain Toluca playmaker Rubens Sambueza), the manager has a decent back four. It's the first time in recent memory you can say that about Leon, but still the team has conceded in both matches played so far. While Alexander Mejia has taken pressure off some of the defenders and William Yarbrough continues to excel at stopping tough shots, the defense still stands out as the weak point of the team. The counters will come, and if recent history is any indication, the goals will too. Does that matter if Leon can't stop other teams from scoring?

Cruz Azul should provide a test Saturday. La Maquina started rolling in the second half against Chivas, scoring three goals after the break en route to the first win of the Pedro Caixinha era. With winter signings Walter Montoya and Carlos "Gullit" Pena settling in, there could be more goals to come from the Mexico City side. After a drab draw in the first home match of the season, the team's fans will want to see a more inspiring performance - something more like the second half against Chivas than the two scoreless 45 minutes against Tijuana.

How Diaz game plans for the test will reveal plenty about his philosophy and how he intends to align a team that should have no trouble scoring, especially with Barnes and Donovan set to arrive, but one that must tighten up at the back if it's going to stay in the top positions of the league all season and challenge for its first title since the bicampenato of 2013-14.