Former Mexico national team coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said his Santos Laguna team wanted to entertain during its trip to Central Texas on Wednesday night. That they did.
Toluca beat Santos Laguna on penalty kicks (4-2) after the teams combined for four goals, a few shots that hit the crossbar or posts and several other near misses during a high-speed Liga MX friendly at Dell Diamond.
“There were a lot of opportunities, plenty of back and forth for the fans,” said de la Torre, who coached El Tri from 2010-13. “We want to win, but it is an exhibition, and at the end of the day we wanted to give a good show.”
The third Liga MX friendly staged by Ryan-Sanders Baseball drew 7,757 fans to the Triple-A ballpark. That number was up from the 6,608 who attended Leon vs. Morelia last year, but the crowd did not approach the 11,181 fans who watched Chivas face Pachuca in 2015.
The Mexican pro league is between seasons. Toluca, a 10-time league champion celebrating its 100th birthday, finished fourth in the most recent campaign, one spot ahead of Santos Laguna, a newer club from north central Mexico. And just as they did in the 2016-17 Clausura quarterfinals, Los Diablos Rojos prevailed over Los Guerreros in their latest match.
“It’s early for us, between tournaments, but it was very good, the atmosphere was nice and it was very hot,” said Toluca star midfielder Rubens Sambueza, who opened the scoring in the 24th minute on a sultry, 90-degree night.
“The field was not precisely what we are used to, but the team adapted and we did the important things. We need to keep bettering ourselves because the (Apertura) tournament begins soon” in late July.
Sambueza, a fiery 33-year-old playmaker from Argentina, is in his debut season for Toluca after arriving from Mexico City’s famed Club America. He was awarded the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League Golden Ball for most assists, and he has collected 35 goals and 52 assists (and 110 yellow cards) in his Liga MX career.
“The team has reinforced itself with new players. We’re on a good path,” he said when asked if Toluca could win the next title. “It’s a new team for me, but I always dream about good things.”
After Santos Laguna’s Ronaldo Cisneros missed the first penalty kick, Sambueza nailed his to get the Red Devils off on the right foot. Later, when Emiliano Armenteros flew one over the net for the Warriors, the Devils were in a position to wrap it up. Enrique Triverio did exactly that.
Julio Furch, a high-scoring forward from Argentina, notched both goals in regulation time for Santos, just before and after halftime. Gabriel Hauche tied it for Toluca in the 56th minute.
The fans were definitely into the match. The red sea of Toluca supporters outnumbered the green of Santos, yet Los Guerreros were well-represented.
“We thank the fans so much for being here,” Sambueza said. “Every time we come to the U.S., the fans give us a lot of love and we send it back to them.”
De la Torre had a similar message for Los Guerreros fans.
“We are so appreciative of the cheering and support,” he said. “This works both ways. We love what they do for us and we play for them, too. It makes all of us feel closer to home.”