GUADALAJARA – There was light, but distinctly audible booing from Leon fans last Thursday, as midfielder Carlos Pena was once again taken off by coach Gustavo Matosas around the hour mark in La Fiera’s 1-0 home win over Toluca.
Unfair? Of course. Pena was a huge presence in Leon’s Apertura 2013 title win and has grown with the club since it was in the second division just two years ago.
But while it was harsh, the discontent from fans highlighted the unavoidable truth that “Gullit” Pena’s form has been concerning over the last two months. The midfielder has looked weary and has perhaps been suffering the effects of a long Copa Libertadores campaign and national team matches, combined with no real break in the last offseason.
On Sunday, his nonchalant, lofted volley over World Cup teammate Alfredo Talavera earned his team a 1-0 win in Toluca. The victory advanced Leon to the Liga MX final, where it will face Pachuca and attempt to win consecutive titles for the first time since Pumas in 2004.
The gem of a goal – provided by Luis Montes – was exactly what Pena needed to regain his confidence. It was a touch of class and a reminder that with the World Cup fast approaching, Pena can still be a vital cog for El Tri in June.
And it didn’t do any harm that Mexico manager Miguel Herrera was watching on from the bleachers inside the Estadio Nemesio Diez.
Pena has been considered an inked-in starter for El Tri over the last six months, but that may no longer be considered the case.
Leon friend and teammate Montes is perhaps the form Mexican midfielder anywhere at present and will be pushing Pena hard to start in Brazil.
Whereas Pena was the main force behind Leon’s Apertura championship drive, Montes has taken the reigns this time around for La Fiera in the playoffs, and is challenging Pachuca’s Enner Valencia for player of the season.
With Porto’s Hector Herrera, Cruz Azul’s Marco Fabian and Toluca’s Isaac Brizuela – who has also undergone a notable drop in form – also in the mix, Pena now has the momentum behind him to make a mark in the Liga MX final and go into Mexico’s World Cup camp on a roll.
Pena remains a key player for both club and country.
-The Liga MX final is likely to be played over Thursday and Sunday, with the times to be confirmed in a meeting on Monday.
-The Pachuca versus Leon final pits two clubs with the same owner. Carlos Slim has a 30 percent stake in both.
-Queretaro has a buyer in place, but the Liga MX has yet to ratify the deal. The club’s future will be decided on Monday.
-Veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco was officially unveiled on Sunday as a Puebla player. The 41-year-old is hoping to steer La Franja away from relegation and into the playoffs, he said.