History is within reach for Liga MX’s Club Leon. After waltzing through the 2021 Leagues Cup quarterfinal and semifinal stages with ease, Leon are now tantalizingly close to lifting their first-ever international trophy.
Leon should know better than to take the Sounders lightly – just ask Santos Laguna or Tigres UANL – but they should remain confident about their chances. Although it’s early days in the tenure of new manager Ariel Holan, Leon have occasionally showcased some of the attack-minded brilliance that resulted in their 2020 Apertura title run.
Ahead of the all-decisive game in Las Vegas, let’s dive into what you (and Seattle) need to know about Leon.
At time of writing, and after Week 9 of the 2021 Apertura, Leon sit fourth in the Liga MX table with a 4W-2L-3T record.
Things have slowed down a bit lately, and they’ve only clinched one win in all competitions across their last five matches, but the argument could be made that they’ve dealt with their circumstances pretty well.
Since late August, they’ve earned draws against complicated Liga MX sides like Club America, Santos and Tigres – and arguably outplayed them all.
Leon then got the job done with a 2-0 win over Pumas in the Leagues Cup semis, and in their latest 1-0 loss to Juarez just a few days later, they rested some key figures and looked to save their energy for Wednesday’s match against Seattle.
Holan has adopted and embraced an attack-minded system from former manager Ignacio “Nacho” Ambriz. Though their expected 4-2-3-1 formation will aim to be vertical, Leon are at their best when they’re mobile and catching the opposition off-guard.
They’re typically willing to take their time with the ball if they have the lead, but if needed, they can also launch a number of progressive passes and runs that will push them rapidly up the pitch.
Unless Holan wants to confuse Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer and his staff after they've watched hours of footage, don’t expect Leon to focus on lofted crosses to a big No. 9. Outside of corner kicks and set pieces that can involve some of their taller players, Leon tend to keep the ball on the ground and like to thread quick passes together.
The easy answer here would be a playmaker and leader like Luis Montes, although it’s unclear if he’ll be fully fit.
During Tuesday’s pregame press conference, the 35-year-old stated he and Holan decided “it would be better if I wait some time” when asked if he's ready to start. Nonetheless, even off the bench, Montes’ energy as an attacking midfielder would make him an immediate game-changer.
Right winger Angel Mena, who has two goals and an assist in Liga MX play since late August, will be expected to pick up some of the slack Montes leaves behind. With plenty of pace and excellent dribbling at his disposal, Mena will be a headache for Seattle’s backline.
Elsewhere, striker Victor Davila has been a decisive figure with a goal and two assists in his two Leagues Cup starts. In defense, William Tesillo will be a reliable and imposing presence who can either play as a left-sided center back or natural left back.
For a well-respected Liga MX team like Leon, winning the Leagues Cup does truly matter – especially knowing that path will become more difficult in 2023 when the expanded, reimagined competition arrives.
“For us, it’s important,” Montes said about the significance of a Leagues Cup title. “It’s the first international tournament that would be won by the club.”
After being knocked out of the Concacaf Champions League in 2020 by LAFC and by Toronto FC in this year's edition, Leon could compensate for some of these international defeats by securing a Leagues Cup title.
It may not include the same prestige as lifting a CCL trophy, but it would undoubtedly be a tangible sign of progress for the Holan era. And on a wider scale, a Leon victory would help bring some of the bragging rights in North American club soccer back to Mexico.
Following a defeat at the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target last month, Liga MX could end the year with a Leagues Cup championship and CCL trophy after Club America and CF Monterrey reached the latter's final. There’s also next week’s Campeones Cup opportunity between Columbus Crew and Cruz Azul at Lower.com Field.