Los Angeles Soccer: Mexico

U.S. aims to close gap on Mexico, the world

August, 16, 2012

Kyle BeckermanMarcos Delgado/Clasos.com/LatinContent/Getty ImagesKyle Beckerman of the U.S. team celebrates a goal during a friendly soccer match between Mexico and USA on Tuesday. The U.S. won 1-0.

MEXICO CITY -- The United States hopes its historic victory at Estadio Azteca is a precursor of sorts, but nobody is mistaking it as a shift in the balance within the region's primary rivalry. The gap separating the Americans from Mexico remains intact, and the only questions concern how great is the chasm and what must be done to bridge it.

Mexico's focus on youth development has created a golden generation of players and could signal El Tri's arrival among the truly elite in international soccer. Last weekend's gold-medal triumph at the London Olympics, with their under-23 team, follows successes by the U-17s (World Cup titles in 2005 and 2011) and the U-20s (third place at last year's World Cup), and the impact on the full national team -- the one that could, for real, be competing for the spoils in Brazil in two years -- has been profound.

Mexico's destruction of the U.S. at last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl, built on the sublime talent of Giovani Dos Santos, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Andres Guardado, was product of Mexico's reaction to the Americans' dominance in the series for nearly a decade from 2000.

Now the U.S. must respond in kind.

“I think Mexico deserves a big compliment,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in advance of the Yanks' 1-0 victory in Wednesday's friendly. “What they've done the last three or four years is tremendous. They’ve identified a way they want to play, and everybody dedicates themselves to that style of play. ...

“There is a gap. It would be foolish not to recognize that.”

The U.S. went 10-2-2, with both losses at Azteca and one of the victories from the 2002 World Cup, over a span of about 8½ years. That dominance, star forward/midfielder Landon Donovan notes, was while “we had a group of us together for five, six, seven, eight years, and they were kind of in flux.” The roles shifted: The U.S. team is now in transition under Klinsmann.

He took charge a year ago after that Gold Cup defeat and is working toward creating a system and a style that will emphasize attacking soccer, a necessity for success in a landscape that has been altered by Spain's success the past five years. He's also altering the makeup of an aging squad, especially at the back. The Americans' great youngsters aren't so young anymore; Donovan is 30.

Mexico's most important figures aren't yet in their primes. Chicharito is 24, Giovani 23. Defender Hector Moreno is 24. Guardado, a relative veteran, is 25. More than a dozen more first-team pool players are younger than 25.

The U.S. also has a promising young contingent -- Jozy Altidore and Brek Shea are 22, Terrence Boyd 21, Danny Williams 23 and Fabian Johnson 24 -- and several others under 25 who might or might not pan out as international players.

“It's hard to quantify a gap,” Donovan said. “We're kind of a little more in flux now, but the hope is that in two years we've closed that gap and we're [like Mexico] a well-oiled machine.”

The 2014 World Cup is the Americans' chief focus, but the real view is longer. Whatever success the U.S. has enjoyed has been about belief and power, not technical and tactical acumen, although there have been great improvement in both areas since the 1994 World Cup changed everything. Klinsmann, a legendary German striker who has called Orange County home for more than a decade, is looking to alter the foundation of how the U.S. plays, and that requires a philosophical shift.

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Struggles secondary in historic U.S. win

August, 16, 2012

MEXICO CITY -- It was an historic victory, the first by the United States at Estadio Azteca in a series that dates to the 1930s, and those responsible couldn't have been more pleased with what they achieved.

The Americans got a superb performance from their backline, at least two heroic saves from Tim Howard and one fortuitous goal to claim a 1-0 triumph Wednesday night over Mexico.

And they weren't shy about proclaiming how important was the result ... even if didn't really mean a thing.

“At the end of the day, we won't win any trophies for winning tonight or won't get any points for it,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who made an imprint defensively before departing at halftime. “But considering the history, and who knows what happens in the future, [a first win here] can never happen again. We're going to enjoy it tonight.”

They should. Beating Mexico at Azteca is nearly impossible: It has happened only once in an official game, a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in 2001, and in a handful of friendlies. Indeed, this was just the third defeat for El Tri in an international exhibition since 1973.

That the U.S. squad didn’t perform particularly well -- defense aside -- is beside the point.

“It's a wonderful moment, because winning a game against a very, very good Mexico team that we have lots of respect for, at Azteca Stadium, that means a lot to us.,” said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Obviously, when we analyze the game, we'll find many, many things that we want to do better. Obviously, in the first half, we had big problems to keep the ball, to get the ball into zones up front, but Mexico, too, had no chances in the first half at all. Second half, they had more chances, really more chances, than we had, and it became difficult.”

“I think it's important for us to understand that we can compete with big teams at their stadiums, at their locations,” he said. “Very special occasion and we want the players to appreciate that. I want the players to take it all in, because you never know if you can have an occasion like that. That's what we told the players. We said you have nothing to lose, give it all you have. Can we play better? Yes. Can we play technically cleaner? Yes. But moments like this are really important.”

The U.S. generated nearly no offense until the 80th minute. Brek Shea, who had been on the field all of two minutes, ran from the left flank past Mexico right back Severo Meza and winger Elias Hernandez and into the box. He then sent the ball into the goalmouth, where it bounced around a little until Terrence Boyd's backheel put it on the goal line. And Michael Orozco Fiscal, who had come off the bench three minutes earlier, poked it home.

“I never thought that would happen,” said Orozco Fiscal, an Orange Countian who plays for San Luis in Mexico. “It's a dream come true.”

That aside, the Americans struggled to possess the ball, couldn't connect passes and for the most part -- save for performances by Jermaine Jones in midfield, Howard in the net and, especially, Geoff Cameron and Edgar Castillo on the left side of the backline -- failed to offer a whole lot.

There were reasons for the lack of chemistry: Pachuca's Jose Torres was out of position in midfield; Fabian Johnson, a natural left back, was on the right side; and Santos Laguna's Herculez Gomez was often stranded up top in a 4-2-3-1 formation until Boyd joined him at forward in the second half; more than half the first-choice lineup wasn't present. Mexico applied heavy pressure, especially in midfield, and would have won if not for Cameron (who owned Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the first half, stopping him cold three times), Club Tijuana's Castillo (a statement-making performance) and Howard (who flew to stop Hernandez twice after Orozco Fiscal's goal).

The U.S. insists things were better than they appeared.

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U.S. will feature players with Mexican experience

August, 15, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- The United States will face a crowd expected to approach 110,000, perhaps more, when it takes on Mexico in Wednesday night's friendly at iconic Estadio Azteca, as daunting a task as exists in international soccer.

It's a huge showdown for the Americans, as is every game against their archrival, and they've brought in six players with advanced knowledge of the Mexican game and the men who will suit up for El Tri.

That could be advantageous, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann says the call-ups of the half-dozen from Liga MX -- Santos Laguna forward Herculez Gomez, Pachuca midfielder Jose Torres, Puebla winger DaMarcus Beasley, Club Tijuana midfielder Joe Corona and defender Edgar Castillo, and San Luis defender Michael Orozco Fiscal -- has less to do with where they play than with what they can provide for the U.S.

“We bring them in because we believe how good they are,” Klinsmann said in advance of the match (ESPN2 and Univision, 5 p.m. PT; coverage starting at 4:30). “We bring them in because they are a big part of our program going forward. It's all about the quality that they provide for us . . . You come in here in this group because you proved you're good.

“These players worked their way through the Mexican league, a very difficult league, a very tough league for them. And they proved their point. They are here because they are quality.”

That they know the inner workings of the Mexican game is an added bonus.

“It's important. I think that's why Jurgen brought a lot of the guys from Mexico in,” said Beasley, a three-World Cup veteran who joined Puebla after seven years in Holland, England, Scotland and Germany. “We know the style, the guys [on El Tri], how they play, what they can do, what they can't do. Hopefully, that will work to our advantage.”

This game is something special for the other five -- Gomez and Torres, who were Beasley's teammates on the 2010 World Cup team, plus Corona, Castillo and Orozco Fiscal -- all of whom are Mexican-American. Torres, who has been at Pachuca for seven years, since he was 17, delayed his commitment to the U.S. while awaiting a potential Mexico call-up. Corona, who is from San Diego, featured in a Mexican under-22 camp before pledging his future to the U.S.

“When I was 17, I was at Pachuca watching the U.S.-Mexico game, and I would always think I will be there one day. And I'm here now,” Torres said. “I have the chance to face Mexico at Azteca, and that's something special.”

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Odds against U.S., but Azteca win is the aim

August, 14, 2012

MEXICO CITY -- El Tri has never lost to the United States in 20 meetings at Estadio Azteca, they're soaring following their under-23 team's gold-medal triumph at the London Olympics, the last competitive meeting between CONCACAF's powers was a full-on rout, and they've got a strong, representative side ready to take on a young, incomplete American team in what could be a full house at North America's most iconic soccer venue.

What hope could the U.S. possibly have in Wednesday night's friendly?

“Expectation, I would say, is relatively low, all things considered ... ,” Landon Donovan said. “But it's still a good opportunity. We want to try to make the most of it.”

Actually, the Yanks want to do more than that. They might be missing more than half their first-choice lineup, and Mexico surely has taken the lead in the region's more rabid rivalry, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann insists this is more than just a tuneup to prepare for the next steps in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

“This test means a lot to us,” the German legend said at a news conference in advance of the match (ESPN and Univision, 5 p.m. PT; coverage begins at 4:30). “We have a lot of respect for the Mexican side. We have a lot of admiration for what Mexico has achieved the last couple of years. ... But we're not coming here to defend or looking good, we're coming here to win this game. And we're going to give Mexico a tough one.”

Victory might appear impossible. The best the U.S. has done at Azteca, at an elevation higher than 7,300 feet, is a scoreless draw in a World Cup qualifier 15 years ago. But all four meetings since have been tight -- Mexico claiming four one-goal wins -- and Klinsmann's edict, central to his culture-changing approach since taking charge in July 2011, is that the Americans do not back down.

“I think we can compete with the best in the world,” he said. “Maybe not with Spain right away, because I think Spain still is at a different level. But the next level underneath Spain. We gave France a game [last November], only lost, 1-nil, and we could have tied the game. We won in Italy in February and surprised some people. We challenged Brazil in June -- the result maybe looked a little different, 4-1, you'd think they outplayed us. I thought we actually gave them a very good game.

“Now we want to match ourselves with Mexico. And we respect what they did and we have admiration, but we're coming here to win.”

There's plenty against the U.S., starting with the venue -- 110,000-seat Azteca, where the mix of altitude, air quality and atmosphere provides El Tri probably the best home-field advantage in international soccer. “Everybody told me it's going to be crazy,” said German-born defender Fabian Johnson.

“I've played there a couple times with [Club Tijuana],” said midfielder Joe Corona, one of six Mexico-based players on the U.S. roster. “What I tell the guys is that altitude plays a very big role here. I mean, they have to get a good sweat in before the warm-up. And the ball travels way more in the air than it does in regular altitude. I know [Azteca] will be impacting at first, but once we start playing, it will go away.”

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Donovan: Mexico is a 'well-oiled machine'

August, 14, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- Landon Donovan is a veteran of the soccer clashes with Mexico, one of the chief figures behind the United States' dominance in the rivalry from 2000 through early 2009 -- and one of the most hated U.S. players, at least on this side of the border.

So he possesses a keen sense of what's what with the region's twin powers, and his take on El Tri's resurgence the past few years, behind a golden generation of young talent, is simple: Mexico is something else, indeed.

“Very good. They're very good,” the Galaxy's captain said on the eve of Wednesday night's friendly at Estadio Azteca (ESPN2 and Univision, 5 p.m. PT; coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m.). “They're a well-oiled machine. They know exactly what they're doing, they have a style that they like to play, and when they play at home, they're relentless.

“So, in my opinion, especially when they play here, they're one of the best teams in the world, no question.”

That makes this match, the first Azteca friendly between the sides since 1984, a tough proposition for a young U.S. team that is missing a number of key players, including three-quarters of its first-choice backline, midfield anchor Michael Bradley, attacking stars Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, and much of its depth.

Mexico has gone from strength to strength with its national teams, including last year's emphatic triumph over the U.S. in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final -- a result that led to Jurgen Klinsmann's appointment as the Yanks' head coach -- and, just last weekend, a stunning victory over Brazil in the gold-medal match at the London Olympics.

None of the Olympians are on Mexico's roster for Wednesday, but several play key roles for El Tri's full national team, and their success marks another step forward. Donovan wasn't surprised.

“I thought they would win. I really did,” he said. “We played that Brazil team [in May], almost the exact same team, and the scoreline was 4-1 [for Brazil], but I wasn't overly impressed with them. I thought Mexico would give them a really hard game.”

The full national team is even better, of course -- the roster for this one includes Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno and Pablo Barrera -- and they've dominated the rivalry since a 5-0 romp over a third-tier U.S. side in the 2009 Gold Cup title game. The last meeting, in Klinsmann's debut a year ago in Philadelphia, was a 1-1 draw.

“The reason Mexico is so good,” Donovan said, “is they can play in those games [against great teams], and they do a good enough job to really stifle teams. But what makes them successful is that when they get the ball, they can actually do something with the ball. A lot of times you play a team like Brazil, and you're defending for long stretches of the game. You get the ball and you're tired, you don't make the right pass, and you're under pressure again.

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Leon conquers champs in HDC friendly

July, 9, 2012
Sebastian Maz scored two goals, one of them quite controversial, to lead Leon over Mexican Primera Division champion Santos Laguna in a friendly Sunday in front of about 14,000 at Home Depot Center, a prep for the start of the Mexican season later this month.

Maz tallied in the 60th and 70th minutes for Leon, which returns to Mexico's top flight after a decade following its triumph in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso promotion final nearly two months ago.

Maz was alone at the top of the 6-yard box to head home a cross for the first goal, but the second, off a corner kick, never should have counted.

The Uruguayan forward, again atop the 6, clearly punched the ball into the net with his fist, but Santos's entreaties to the referee failed to sway.

Santos, from Torreon, started close to a first-choice lineup, including L.A.-born former Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez, and dominated the first 30 minutes without reward.

Both clubs open the Primera Division season July 21, with Santos home against San Luis and Leon visiting Gallos Blancos.

Happy homecoming for Herculez

July, 7, 2012

Herculez GomezArmando Marin/Jam Media/Latin Content/Getty ImagesHerculez Gomez and Mexican league champion Santos Laguna will play at Home Depot Center on Sunday.

CARSON -- Santos Laguna fêtes its championship Sunday evening at Home Depot Center against Mexico's other reigning titlist, but it's just one in a series of friendlies meant to prepare the clubs for the kickoff to the Primera Division season later this month, nothing more.

It's more meaningful for Herculez Gomez, the L.A.-born, Las Vegas-bred former Galaxy striker who has reinvented himself, to great effect, since heading south of the border 2 1/2 years ago.

Gomez is coming off a sensational stretch since joining Santos last winter: He scored 10 goals in all, helping the Torreon-based club to its fourth Mexican league championship and into the title game in the CONCACAF Champions League, and won a return to the U.S. national team.

Now, after starting in the Americans' first two 2014 World Cup qualifiers -- and scoring a goal in the 3-1 victory over Antigua & Barbuda -- he's preparing for another title run with the Guerreros with a little homecoming.

“It's awesome, right? Who woulda thunk?” he said on the eve of the game against Leon, which is returning to the Primera Division after a 10-year absence following its triumph in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso. “It's a little bit different coming back as a champ, especially what I've been through this last three years. ... All of a sudden a national team player and you're coming back as a champion with one of the more popular clubs in Mexico, and now these people kind of see you as their own, you know? Like a Chicago kind of kid done good.

“It definitely feels good, definitely puts a little pep in your step.”

Gomez is well-regarded in these parts. He made his breakthrough with the Galaxy in 2005, scoring 18 first-team goals in all competitions and winning the club's MVP honor as it won the MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup double. He was pushed out to the wing after heading to Colorado and Kansas City, a move that thwarted his development, and found his game again only after moving to Mexico to join Puebla for the 2010 Clausura.

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Mexican champs coming to HDC

June, 13, 2012

Herculez GomezArmando Marin/Jam Media/Latin Content/Getty ImagesHerculez Gomez and Santos Laguna of Mexico will play a friendly at the Home Depot Center next month.

A battle of Mexican champions is slated for Home Depot Center next month.

Santos Laguna, which last month won the Primera Division's Clausura title, will face Leon, which won the Liga de Ascenso's promotion final, in a friendly July 8 in Carson.

The game is being staged by the L.A. Blues, and tickets go on sale Thursday at 714-738-8011.

Santos was the first No. 1 seed to win a Mexican Primera Division title, beating Monterrey, 3-2, on aggregate to claim the season's second-half championship. The Guerreros, from Torreon, had fallen in three of the previous four Primera finals and lost to Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League title series in April.

Leon captured the Clausura title in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso, then beat Apertura winner Correcaminos to win promotion to the Primera Division. The Esmeraldas have since signed Mexican national-team veteran Jonny Magallon.

Santos features U.S. national-teamer Herculez Gomez, who was born in Los Angeles and first emerged as a striker with the Galaxy.

WORLD CUP: U.S. makes its point

June, 12, 2012
The U.S. settled for a point in its second World Cup qualifier after watching a late lead disappear in a 1-1 draw in Guatemala.

Chicago Fire star Marco Pappa's free kick toward the upper-right corner in the 83rd minute left goalkeeper Tim Howard rooted to his spot, enabling the Chapines (0-1-1) to claim a point in their Group A home opener.

Clint Dempsey scored near the end of the first half for the Americans (1-0-1), who are atop their semifinal group on goal difference over Jamaica (1-0-1), which played a scoreless draw at Antigua & Barbuda (0-1-1).

ELSEWHERE: Hector Moreno nodded home a misplay by Salvadoran goalkeeper Benji Villalobos in the 82nd minute to lift Mexico to a 2-1 triumph in San Salvador. In the other Group B game, Real Salt Lake's Alvaro Saborio scored a hat trick to lead Costa Rica past Guyana, 4-0. ... Canada gained a point in Toronto, playing Honduras to a scoreless draw in Group C. Panama is atop the group after beating Cuba, 1-0, on Nelson Barahona's second-half strike.
Third round
Tuesday's results

Guatemala 1 (Pappa 83), United States 1 (Dempsey 40)
Antigua & Barbuda 0, Jamaica 0

1. United States 1-0-1 (4-2 GF-GA) 4 points
2. Jamaica 1-0-1 (2-1) 4
3. Guatemala 0-1-1 (2-3) 1
4. Antigua & Barbuda 0-1-1 (1-3) 1

El Salvador 1 (Pacheco 65), Mexico 2 (Zavala 60, Moreno 82)
Guyana 0, Costa Rica 4 (Saborio 20, 26, 52, Campbell 77)

1. Mexico 2-0-0 (5-2) 6
2. Costa Rica 1-0-1 (6-2) 4
3. El Salvador 0-1-1 (3-4) 1
4. Guyana 0-2-0 (1-7) 0

Canada 0, Honduras 0
Panama 1 (Barahona 58), Cuba 0

1. Panama 2-0-0 (3-0) 6
2. Canada 1-0-1 (1-0) 4
3. Honduras 0-1-1 (0-2) 1
4. Cuba 0-2-0 (0-2) 0

GALAXY: Draw is Metapan, Caribbean team

June, 5, 2012

The Galaxy will face Salvadoran powerhouse Isidro Metapan and the least of the Caribbean's three qualifiers in the group stage of the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League.

Tuesday's draw in New York placed the Galaxy, the top U.S. qualifier for the regional club championship, atop Group 5. Metapan, which is making its fifth successive CCL appearance, was the only club not from Major League Soccer or Mexico to reach the knockout stage of the competition that wrapped in April. It has won six of the last 11 league titles in El Salvador, since spring 2007.

The Caribbean entrants will be determined in a four-team group final in the Caribbean Football Union's Club Championship. The finalists include two teams playing in U.S. leagues -- two-time defending Caribbean champ Puerto Rico Islanders (from the second-division North American Soccer League) and Antigua Barracuda (from the third-division USL Pro) -- along with Trinidadian powers Caledonia AIA and W Connection. No schedule has been announced.

CONCACAF also hasn't announced a schedule for the Champions League, which kicks off July 31. Group play runs through mid-October and the eight group winners will be seeded based on results for the knockout stage, which begins next March.

Here are all of the groups:

Santos Laguna (Mexico)
Toronto FC (Canada)
Aguila (El Salvador)

Herediano (Costa Rica)
Real Salt Lake (U.S.)
Tauro (Panama)

Olimpia (Honduras)
Houston Dynamo (U.S.)
FAS (El Salvador)

Seattle Sounders (U.S.)
Marathon (Honduras)
Caribbean 1

Galaxy (U.S.)
Isidro Metapan (El Salvador)
Caribbean 3

UANL Tigres (Mexico)
Alajuelense (Costa Rica)
Real Esteli (Nicaragua)

Chorrillo (Panama)
Monterrey (Mexico)
Municipal (Guatemala)

Xelaju (Guatemala)
Guadalajara (Mexico)
Caribbean 2

MEXICO: Glorious day for Gomez

May, 20, 2012

Herculez Gomez started the day Sunday with a call-up to the U.S. national team, his first under Jurgen Klinsmann. The finish was even better.

Gomez became the first American player to win top-flight titles in the U.S. and Mexico as Santos Laguna claimed the Mexican Primera Division title with a 2-1 victory over Monterrey in the second leg of the title series in the spring Clausura, the season's second-half championship.

Santos, from Torreon, won on 3-2 aggregate, the first top seed to win the title since Pachuca's triumph in the 2007 Clausura, 10 tournaments ago. The first leg, Thursday in Monterrey, finished 1-1.

Gomez, who was born in Los Angeles, raised in Las Vegas and made his name during a breakout 2005 season with the Galaxy, did not appear in either game.

Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear also has won titles in both countries, as a midfielder for Necaxa in 1994, as head coach of the Dynamo in 2006 and 2007 and as assistant coach with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001 and 2003.

Daniel Ludueña in the sixth minute and Oribe Peralta in the 65th scored fine goals to give Santos a 2-0 lead. Aldo de Nigris pulled Monterrey back one in the 79th. Peralta scored the Guerreros' first-leg goal and two late goals to overcome UANL Tigres in the semifinals.

The championship was the fourth for Santos, which previously won the 1996 Invierno, 2001 Verano and 2008 Clausura and had lost in three of the previous four finals. The Guerreros had qualified for the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League as runner-up during the fall Apertura, but Sunday's victory means they will be top seed in one eight three-team groups in the first stage, which begins in late July.

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MEXICO: Draw gives Santos advantage

May, 17, 2012
Oribe Peralta, hero of Santos Laguna's stunning semifinal comeback, came up big again Thursday in the opener of the Mexican Primera Division's title series.

Peralta scored a superb goal in the 70th minute to give the Guerreros, seeking to become the first No. 1 seed in five years to win Mexico's most prestigious soccer competition, an advantage that will serve them well in Sunday's second leg of the Clausura (or second-half) championship.

Monterrey rallied for a 1-1 draw in stoppage, with Humberto Suazo winning and then converting a penalty kick, but the result is a plus for Santos, which is seeking its first title since the 2008 Clausura and fourth in history.

Santos, which lost to Monterrey in last month's CONCACAF Champions League final, went ahead when Peralta, who scored twice in the final 10 minutes to lift the Guerreros past UANL Tigres in the semifinals, took a long ball over the top about 30 yards from the Rayados' goal, opened space with a simple touch, and lofted the ball over goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco.

Suazo was fouled by Felipe Baloy in the Santos box in the first minute of stoppage. His penalty kick, in the fourth minute, beat goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez to the left post.

MEXICO: No. 1 vs. No. 2 for the title

May, 14, 2012

Santos Laguna needed a late miracle to reach the Mexican Primera Division's title series. Monterrey required only a little home cooking.

They'll face off this week in the home-and-home Clausura final, the first time the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds have reached the championship matches since 2000.

Top-seeded Santos got two late goals from Oribe Peralta to overcome UANL Tigres, winner of the fall Apertura title. Sunday's 2-2 draw in Torreon left aggregate at 3-3, and the Guerreros advanced with the better regular-season's finish.

Monterrey, seeking its third Mexican title in seven seasons, beat visiting America, 2-0, Saturday on goals by Jose Maria Basanta and Aldo de Nigris. The first leg, Wednesday at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, was scoreless.

The title series is a rematch of last month's CONCACAF Champions League final, which Monterrey captured on 3-2 aggregate for its second straight confederation title.

Santos is making its fourth appearance in a final in five seasons but is seeking its first title since the 2008 Clausura, eight campaigns ago. Monterrey beat Santos in the 2010 Apertura final.

Peralta's goals answered two in the first half by Hector Mancilla for Tigres, which was looking to set up a first title-series showdown with Clasio Regiomontano archrival Monterrey.

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MEXICO: Top seeds move on

May, 6, 2012

The No. 1 seed in Mexico's Primera Division playoffs had failed to advance from the quarterfinals in 13 of 20 postseasons, seven of nine and the last four in a row. Santos Laguna failed to follow form.

The Torreon-based Guerreros advanced to the semifinals Sunday, finishing off a 6-4 aggregate victory over Jaguares de Chiapas, and No. 2 Monterrey and No. 3 America joined them.

The only upset: UANL Tigres toppling fourth-seeded Morelia in the other opening series. And calling it an upset is gross exaggeration. Tigres, the No. 5 seed, won the Apertura title last fall and was in the top three most of the current Clausura season.

Santos will meet Tigres and Monterrey takes on America in two-leg series that begin Tuesday and Wednesday and conclude next weekend.

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MEXICO: Tijuana joins playoff party

April, 30, 2012

Club Tijuana came into the Mexican Primera Division's spring championship aiming for survival. They claimed more than that Sunday, nailing down their first postseason berth in the country's top league.

The Xolos, who would have qualified had Pachuca or Jaguares failed to win their games Saturday, needed at least a draw Sunday afternoon against visiting Pumas UNAM -- and pulled out a 1-1 tie, going ahead on Duvier Riascos' goal 12 minutes into the second half and holding on after Javier Cortes equalized in the 89th minute.

Tijuana (7-3-7) finished seventh among 18 clubs and will face second-seeded Monterrey (9-3-5) in the quarterfinals, opening at home Wednesday and playing away Saturday.

Tijuana was promoted from the second-tier Liga de Ascenso last year and finished 15th in the fall Apertura. One team is relegated every year, and the Xoloitzcuintles were at the bottom of the “percentages table” -- points per game over three years -- heading into the Clausura. They lost just once in their first 10 games to reach safe ground, and finished 3-1-2 to snare their berth.

Santos Laguna (11-3-3), runner-up to UANL Tigres in the Apertura and three times in the last four championships, is the top seed and will open against Jaguares de Chiapas. No. 1 isn't the most advantageous position: Regular-season champions have lost in their playoff openers the last four seasons, in seven of the last nine championships and 13 of the last 20.

The best bets, if history holds: Monterrey (second seeds have won six of the past 20 titles) or No. 3 America (third seeds have won eight times).

A quick rundown of the Clausura campaign:
  • WHO'S IN

Santos closed with seven wins in its last eight games to hold off Monterrey (9-3-5), America (9-3-5), fourth-seeded Morelia (9-4-4) and fifth-seeded Tigres (9-4-4) for the top spot, clinching as Oribe Peralta scored his eighth and ninth goals in a 3-1 victory at Atlas. L.A.-born former Galaxy star Herculez Gomez netted five goals in just 417 minutes, plus another six to send the Torreon-based club to the CONCACAF Champions League final, which was won by Monterrey.

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