At midfield, the lateness of the contact would increase the severity of the call, increasing the likelihood of a caution, on account of the "reckless" nature of late contact.
You suggest it might work the other way in the penalty area. I understand the impulse of not awarding a penalty kick for contact that arguably did not affect the path of the ball. But, for me, at least, that's a straight penalty every time, and I'd consider a caution for the lateness of the contact and potential for injury arising from the angle of the contact.
I've yet to talk to a practicing referee who would not have awarded a penalty kick.
are speculating that Aquino didn't get the penalty because he oversold the contact. He looked like he was diving, so the ref concluded that he was diving.
... suggested, like you, that the lateness of the contact affected the call. Less plausibly, I think, he also thought that Aquino was already going down and that the contact was only slight.
“The officials make two or three mistakes and as a soccer players we also make mistakes and nothing happens,” the Tigres man told the press after the game. “If you have plays at goal and you put the ball in (the net), you don’t need to be complaining about the referee.”