Gignac shows brilliance to tie record, but Tigres leave Liga MX final series open in win over Leon

The Frenchman tied Tomas Boy as the club’s all-time leading scorer, but may need to score again to win his fourth title in Mexico

Let’s get this out of the way first. Andre-Pierre Gignac’s goal to lift Tigres to a 1-0 win over Leon in the first leg of the Liga MX final required more from his teammates than it did from him.

Right back Luis “Chaka” Rodriguez put William Tesilo on the ground, then faked out Jean Menses to keep possession. He played a diagonal ball for Luis Quinones, who ran onto the pass and tried to score on his own. The deflection fell to the Frenchman, who raised his leg to make contact and put the ball into the goal.

In addition to being the difference Thursday night and giving his club the advantage in a two-legged final series in which aggregate score is the only thing that matters (neither away goals nor regular season finish are used as tiebreakers), it was a record-tying goal for Gignac. The Frenchman joined Tomas Boy as Tigres’ all-time leading scorer with 104 goals.

Gignac arrived to much fanfare ahead of the 2015 Apertura and has been every bit as good as advertised. Few players in recent memory have been as influential as he has been, so you can understand why the fans were still singing his name in the 85th minute, more than an hour after the goal fell.

It took Gignac a fraction of the time it took Boy to reach the mark. While the current Chivas manager, an attacking midfielder, played 431 matches with Los Felinos, Gignac matched him in 181 games.

What makes him so good? First of all there are few players with his physical size able to move as quickly and gracefully as he does with the ball. Gignac dances right up to the border of clumsy, but instead of falling over the ball cuts it back to a teammate or chips it into the net. It is grace from garbage, magic from meh.

There is his timing and movement. Just before the halftime whistle, Gignac worked his way between the two Leon center backs. They thought they had him offside, but instead he stopped his momentum and went back toward the ball, getting it in line with the defenders. With the pass less than perfect, he turned and took a touch to the outside, launching a left-footed shot from distance that nearly escaped the goalkeeper’s grasp.

He also knows how to rise to the occasion. A stunning 21 of Gignac’s goals with Tigres have come in the playoffs, which is why Gignac has garnered the nickname “Mr. Liguilla”. Compare that to seven of Boy’s goals ocurring in the postseason.

When the pressure is on and the team really needs a goal, Gignac is there. He even was there in the Concacaf Champions League final this year, when manager Tuca Ferretti elected to trim him minutes. It was a decision that may have cost Tigres the trophy.

That’s in the past, though. The focus now is on lifting another league trophy. While an international title still eludes Gignac, he’s helped win the league on three occasions.

“I’m proud of him – more than anything as a person,” midfielder Guido Pizarro said. “Hopefully on Sunday he can pass him.”

That would make it very likely that Tigres would be celebrating another title. They were the better team Thursday, with Pizarro and Rafael Carioca able to hone in on Leon playmaker Luis Montes and make it difficult to create chances. Rubens Sambueza will return for Sunday’s decider after missing the first leg because of suspension.

Between the dangerous Argentine’s return and a Camp Nou that will be full of fans hoping to see Leon put the cherry on top of a record-breaking season, Tigres know they’ve made things hard on themselves in the second leg. Gignac kept trying to break the record, and more urgently double Tigres’ lead. He brought Leon goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota into action several times and looked like he’d score on a header in the 50th minute but sent the chance well over the bar. The opportunities he and others left on the table may come back to haunt them.

Yet there’s also the belief that Mr. Liguilla could live up to his title once again, moving past Boy in the record books and, with a fourth league title, making a strong case that he’s the greatest Tigres player of all-time.

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