Pachuca didn’t fare so well in the brutal stretch to start its season -- America, Toluca, Santos, Cruz Azul and Monterrey in the first five weeks -- but the Tuzos are finally finding some success, with three successive wins taking them from 17th overall to ninth, just one spot out a playoff berth.
Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over visiting Pumas UNAM, who started the day seventh overall, came courtesy of Dario Cvitanich, whose hard work led to his fourth goal of the Mexican Primera Division’s Apertura season just after the second-half kickoff and set up Victor Mañon for another strike nearly 10 minutes later, and goalkeeper Miguel Calero, who secured the win with a diving stop of Juan Carlos Cacho’s free kick deep into stoppage.
Former L.A. Galaxy star Herculez Gomez wished he could have been part of it. The Los Angeles-born, Las Vegas-bred forward, a super-sub who shared the league lead with 10 goals during the spring Clausura for Puebla, was slated to make his first start for Pachuca. He instead spent the game in the hospital after a suspected Salmonella attack Friday night.
He wasn’t released until the game was over, and it turns out it’s easier to watch Mexican League action in L.A. -- we, of course, get every game on television -- than it is in Pachuca. Gomez followed the action, and that from the U.S. national team’s 2-2 draw with Poland, through Twitter updates, with reports coming from friends and fans watching the games in the U.S.
Gomez also kept everyone up on his condition, both body and mind.
“Great..Been at the hospital with an iv in me 4 the last 8 hours,” he Tweeted on Friday. “They think I have salmonella. That's all I need, tomorrow is huge 4 me!”
By Saturday morning, he had accepted the inevitable: “Thank u all so much for your well wishes and prayers. I feel better already but they won't clear me to leave the hospital just yet. 2maro.”
Then, in quick succession: “I might sneak out..true story. I hate being away from the field. Between u's and I.. I was getting my 1st start today. Timing is terrible.” And: “This isn't a set back.. I know the opportunity will be there again. I just have to be ready for it. K, I have to figure out my escape plan;)”
Gomez, whose torrid play last spring led to a spot on the U.S. World Cup team, finally got to watch Pachuca’s victory -- it was televised on delay in Pachuca, and by Sunday he was home, feeling fine, and ready to watch some football. No, not futbol -- Gomez likes the Raiders.
“I feel like a new man... Oh, and it's Sunday Funday! NFL! NFL! Any upsets on the horizon? OAk taking down the Chargers? Think about it.”
SIN GOLES: No change at the top of the standings -- the four best teams were part of a rare goalless Sunday, everyone more or less holding serve.
No. 1 Cruz Azul (8-2-1) couldn’t capitalize on a man advantage at fourth-place Toluca (4-2-5), No. 2 Monterrey (6-0-5) remained the sole unbeaten side at sixth-place America (4-3-4), and No. 3 Santos Laguna (7-3-1) combined with Morelia to hit the post three times.
Cruz Azul maintained a huge lead in Group 3, Monterrey stayed a point ahead of Santos in Group 1, and Toluca opened a one-point lead in Group 2 when San Luis lost.
The Morelia-Santos clash was the most entertaining, even with Christian Benitez, Santos’ (and the Apertura’s) top scorer, off on international duty for Ecuador. Elias Hernandez and Jaime Lozano struck the post for the Monarcas and Carlos Morales for Santos, all in the first half.
Cruz Azul dominated Toluca after Diego Novaretti was sent off after his second yellow card, in the 40th minute, but Diablos Rojos goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera repeatedly made big saves to keep things at 0-0.
TROUBLE AT HOME: Guadalajara hasn’t won in more than a month and sit 13th in the overall standings and fifth in Group 1 after claiming just one of six points in pair of games last week. Adrian Aldrete’s 78th-minute free kick carried Morelia to a 1-0 victory Wednesday night, and Chivas conceded a late penalty kick in a 2-2 draw Saturday with Gallos Blancos.
The club has not fared well since opening Estadio Omnilife in suburban Zapopan at the end of July. The Goats have won just twice in seven encounters, and one of those -- a 3-2 victory over Manchester United in the stadium debut -- didn’t count. A 3-0 romp over crosstown rival Estudiantes Tecos on Sept. 5 in one of just two wins for Guadalajara in a frustrating Apertura tournament.
The loss to Morelia followed a mid-September loss to Jaguares and last week’s draw with Atlas, Chivas’ biggest in-town rival, and much of the faithful are longing to return to Estadio Jalisco, the club’s home for more than five decades. Two of the three remaining home games in the fall season are against Toluca and Cruz Azul. The SuperClasico against America -- the biggest date on Mexico’s sporting calendar -- is Oct. 24 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City,
Guadalajara (2-3-6) is only three points out of eighth place with six games to go, so the playoffs are still in reach. But the performances must be better than Saturday’s, in which Chivas’ Jesus Sanchez quickly answered Emilio Lopez’s opener and Marco Fabian de la Mora’s fancy footwork provided a would-be winner in the 74th minute. Then Edgar Mejia took down Jorge Cardenas at the top of the box. Mejia was sent off, and Hector Altamirano converted from the spot to pull Gallos Blancos even.
ETC.: Itamar Batista scored his seventh and eighth goals, both on headers, as UANL Tigres romped to a three-goal lead by the 26th minute in a 5-0 victory over league-worst Estudiantes Tecos, but he should have netted his ninth, too. The well-traveled Brazilian forward missed a penalty kick in the second minute, shooting straight at Estudiantes goalkeeper Christian Martinez. … Jaguares has climbed from last to fifth overall with a six-game unbeaten streak, getting their fourth win in that span against Atlante on goals by Jorge Rodriguez and Danilinho. … Gerardo Espinoza’s penalty kick nearly five minutes into stoppage, after Christian Sanchez took down Flavio Santos, gave Atlas just its second victory of the campaign, a 2-1 decision over visiting San Luis, who dropped from fifth to seventh overall. … Necaxa’s Nicolas Pavlovich scored the winner for the second time in three weeks to beat Puebla.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente’s unbeaten streak reached a dozen games with a 2-1 victory at Pumas Morelos, on two Luis Orozco goals. The Xolos (7-0-5) retained a three-point lead over Veracruz (6-1-5), a 1-0 winner over last-place Merida, but Lobos BUAP and Irapuato lost and fell six points off the pace. Irapuato, with Cuauhtemoc Blanco, visits T.J. on Sunday. … Indios de Ciudad Juarez knocked off Irapuato, 2-0, with Juan Carlos de la Barrera scoring both goals. … Former Chivas USA forward Roberto Nurse tallied twice in Cruz Azul Hidalgo’s 3-1 victory over Leones Negros, giving him six goals in the past five games. … Eder Pacheco netted his league-best ninth goal to wrap third-place Alacranes de Durango’s 3-1 win over Dorados de Sinaloa. Iñigo Rey has scored in three straight Alacranes games. … A scoreless draw at Albinegros de Orizaba extended Leon’s unbeaten streak to five games after a 0-6-1 start.
AMERICANS IN ACTION: Gomez wasn’t available, but Marco Antonio Vidal got his fifth straight start in midfield for Pachuca, and fellow Texan Jose Francisco Torres, Gomez’s World Cup teammate, was a second-half sub for the Tuzos. … Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce was in his usual spot, at left back, for both of Chivas’ games; he was yellow-carded against Gallos Blancos.
Past week's games (home teams listed first)
Guadalajara 0, Morelia 1 (A. Aldrete 78)
Necaxa 1 (Pavlovich 28), Puebla 0
Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 2 (E. Lopez 57, Altamirano pen. 84), Guadalajara 2 (J. Sanchez 59, de la Mora 74)
Jaguares de Chiapas 2 (J. Rodriguez 37, Danilinho 77), Atlante 0
Pachuca 3 (L. Lopez 33, Cvitanich 46, Mañon 55), Pumas UNAM 2 (D. Lopez 12, Cacho 91+)
UANL Tigres 5 (Juninho 16, I. Batista 18, 66, Lobos 26, D. Alvarez 82), Estudiantes Tecos 0
Atlas 2 (A. Moreno 25, G. Espinoza pen. 95+), San Luis 1 (S. Ponce 76)
Morelia 0, Santos Laguna 0
Toluca 0, Cruz Azul 0
Monterrey 0, America 0
Group 1: Monterrey 23 points, Santos 22, UANL Tigres 15, Necaxa 13, Guadalajara 12, Estudiantes Tecos 8
Group 2: Toluca 17 points, America 16, San Luis 16, Pachuca 15, Atlas 8, Atlante 8
Group 3: Cruz Azul 25 points, Jaguares 16, Pumas UNAM 15, Puebla 14, Gallos Blancos 12, Morelia 11
Overall (top 8): 1. Cruz Azul 25 (+13 goal difference), 2. Monterrey 23 (+9), 3. Santos 22 (+11), 4. Toluca 17 (+2), 5. Jaguares 16 (+5), 6. America 16 (+2), 7. San Luis 16 (-), 8. UANL Tigres 15 (+6). Playoffs: If season ended now, the top eight would qualify
Relegation percentage: 1. Gallos Blancos (45 games/51 points) 1.1333; 2. Atlante (79/91) 1.1519; 3. Jaguares and Atlas (79/93) 1.1772; 5. Necaxa (11/13) 1.1818
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Atlas at Estudiantes Tecos, 6:10 p.m.
Santos Laguna at Cruz Azul, 3 p.m.
Toluca at Monterrey, 3 p.m.
Morelia at Pachuca, 5 p.m.
Necaxa at Guadalajara, 5 p.m.
Gallos Blancos de Queretaro at San Luis, 6:45 p.m.
UANL Tigres at Atlante, 7 p.m.
Jaguares de Chiapas at Pumas UNAM, 10 a.m.
America at Puebla, 10 a.m.
Schedule subject to change
1. Christian Benitez (Santos) 11
2. Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 9
3. Itamar Batista (UANL Tigres) 8
4. Edgar Benitez (Pachuca) 6
Johan Fano (Atlante) 6
Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul) 6
Carlos Ochoa (Jaguares) 6
Javier Orozco (Cruz Azul) 6
Matias Vuoso (America) 6
10. Sergio Blanco (Gallos Blancos) 5
Dante Lopez (Pumas UNAM) 5
This week's results (home teams listed first)
Friendly: Mexico vs. Venezuela at Ciudad Juarez, 6:30 p.m.
Friendly: Guadalajara at Seattle Sounders FC (MLS), 7 p.m.
LIGA DE ASCENSO
Past week's results (home teams listed first)
Pumas Morelos 1 (S. Medina 37), Club Tijuana 2 (L. Orozco 40, 72)
Albinegros de Orizaba 0, Leon 0
Alacranes de Durango 3 (I. Rey 19, J. Bustos 52, Eder Pacheco 85), Dorados de Sinaloa 1 (M. Calderon 60)
Irapuato 0, Indios de Ciudad Juarez 2 (de la Barrera 46, 56)
Merida FC 0, Veracruz 1 (M. Romero 13)
Correcaminos 0, Guerreros 1 (O. Martinez 64)
Lobos BUAP 0, Altamira 1 (Collazo 11)
Atlante Neza 0, La Piedad 0
Cruz Azul Hidalgo 3 (Nurse 19, 78, A. Rodriguez 89)
Standings: 1. Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente 26, 2. Veracruz 23, 3. Alacranes de Durango 21, 4. Lobos BUAP 20, 5. Irapuato 20, 6. Indios de Ciudad Juarez 19, 7. Albinegros de Orizaba 18, 8. Pumas Morelos 18, 9. Altamira 16, 10. Dorados de Sinaloa 16, 11. Cruz Azul Hidalgo 15, 12. Guerreros FC 14, 13. La Piedad 14, 14. Leon 12, 15. U de G Leones Negros 11, 16. UAT Correcaminos 10, 17. Atlante Neza 8, 18. Merida FC 7
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Correcaminos at Altamira, 5 p.m.
Cruz Azul Hidalgo at Guerreros, 6:30 p.m.
Pumas Morelos at Leones Negros, 6:45 p.m.
Atlante Neza at Indios de Ciudad Juarez, 4 p.m.
La Piedad at Veracruz, 5 p.m.
Alacranes de Durango at Merida, 5 p.m.
Lobos BUAP at Leon, 6 p.m.
Albinegros de Orizaba at Dorados de Sinaloa, 6 p.m.
Irapuato at Club Tijuana XC, 1 p.m.
Schedule subject (and likely) to change
1. Eder Pacheco (Alacranes) 9
2. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 8
3. Juan Manuel Cavallo (Albinegros) 6
Roberto Nurse (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 6
Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 6
Miguel Zepeda (Leones Negros) 6
7. Jared Borgetti (Leon) 5
Hector Gimenez (Guerreros) 5
Eduardo Lillingston (Indios) 5
Salvador Medina (Pumas Morelos) 5
Rafael Murguia (La Piedad) 5
Iñigo Rey (Alacranes) 5