Mexico's Primera Division, like most leagues around the globe (but not Major League Soccer), is taking this weekend off for FIFA's international fixture dates.
El Tricolores, with 13 of 23 players from Mexico's top league and the rest from MLS (Rafa Marquez) and Europe (another dozen, including Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos, are in California for games Saturday against Paraguay in Oakland and Tuesday night against Venezuela in San Diego.
(And Mexico has announced the fourth date on their annual U.S. tour: May 28 vs. Ecuador in Seattle.)
We're 11 weeks into the 17-game Clausura (spring) regular season, and here's some of what's transpired so far:
BEST TEAM: Unbeaten Pumas UNAM (7-0-4) has done it with defense, naturally. The Cats have conceded just eight goals and shut out six foes, including five of the last seven, behind goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios, central defenders Dario Veron, Efrain Velarde and Marco Antonio Palacios, and central midfielder Israel Castro. All five have played every minute.
Others in the hunt: Morelia (6-2-3) is a surprise at No. 2 in the overall table, outfiring foes, 22-9, since a 5-0 loss to Atlas in the opener. … UANL Tigres (5-1-5) have lost just once while surrendering five goals -- just one in the past seven games -- but attacking liabilities are a concern. … Never look past Cruz Azul (6-2-3), which has been very good; America (5-6-1), hit and miss; or Monterrey (6-4-1), inconsistent but improving. … Atlas (4-4-3) is fading after that fast start, but Atlante (5-5-1) is on the rise, with nine goals in its last two games.
BEST PLAYER: We're tempted to go with with Emanuel Villa, who has been scoring important goals of great quality, but we prefer his Cruz Azul teammate Christian Gimenez, the most dynamic playmaker in the Primera Division. … Other candidates: Angel Reyna is in terrific form for America. … Neri Cardozo is evolving into a real star with Monterrey. … Rafael Marquez Lugo is eclipsing his namesake with a superb campaign at Morelia. … Juan Carlos Cacho was spectacular for Pumas before he was injured in a national team camp. … Nobody is better than Atlante's Francisco “Kikin” Fonseca at the moment.
WORST TEAM: Jaguares (2-7-2) is competing for a berth in the final 16 at Copa Libertadores (see Copa Call, below), has posted 1-0 victories over two of the best defensive sides in the Primera Division (Necaxa and Guadalajara, which have both conceded eight goals), held top-eight San Luis scoreless in a draw and claimed a point against America. That aside, the club from Chiapas has been awful. It has scored only seven times, two of them against America -- the only game they've had more than one -- while giving up at least two goals in seven of 11 matches. Monterrey scored four on them and Atlante five. The skid has brought Jaguares dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Who will be relegated?: Probably Necaxa (3-6-2). The Rayos changed coaches after an 0-4-0 start (all 1-0 losses) and went 3-0-1 in Sergio Bueno's first four games in charge (0-0 with Morelia, then wins over America, Toluca and Santos) to threaten Gallos Blancos, but they haven't scored in their last three and last week's 1-0 loss to Puebla on a late goal was particularly discouraging. … Gallos Blancos (3-6-2) has made it a race, which it shouldn't have been after the club from Queretaro won the showdown at the end of January. They've got the more forgiving schedule down the stretch.
AMERICANS ABROAD: Calexico's Isaac Acuña has been one of the breakout stars of the Clausura, scoring three goals in his first four Primera Division starts (and getting a call-up to Mexico's U-20 national team) after joining Gallos Blancos on loan from America. …
World Cup midfielder Jose Francisco Torres has been the most consistent starter among the Yanks, in Pachuca's first XI in seven of 11 matches. … UANL Tigres has won all four games Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein has started, but he's not been in their lineup since Feb. 12. … Herculez Gomez is seeing regular action off the bench for Pachuca, but he hasn't scored and has just one goal since joining the Tuzos last summer after netting 10 in the 2010 Clausura with Puebla. … Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce has missed most of the season with a leg injury. …
Edgar Castillo (with Puebla) and Sonny Guadarrama (with Atlante) were making appearances earlier in the season. Guadarrama, from Austin, Texas, played twice with Atlante Neza, the Potros' Liga de Ascenso side, and scored in his debut last weekend after moving to fellow Liga team Merida. … San Diego's Joe Corona has been solid on the wing for Club Tijuana, and Marco Vidal has started most games for Leon in central midfield.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: Club Tijuana's steady climb has reached the third spot, following the Xolos' fourth successive victory, and next up (on Saturday evening) is first-place Irapuato (7-2-3), with dozen-goal scorer Ariel Gonzalez and iconic playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Tijuana (5-1-5) and second-place Leon (6-1-4) have a game in hand on Irapuato.
COPA CALL: Mexico is guaranteed a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League final and has three teams maneuvering through the group stage in Copa Libertadores, South America's club championship. … Monterrey has a 2-1 edge going into the second leg of the CONCACAF semifinals April 6 at Cruz Azul. The victor faces Real Salt Lake from MLS or Saprissa from Costa Rica in next month's two-leg final. …
America is in the best shape in Copa Libertadores, second in tight Group 3 with a 2-2-0 record. A win at home April 6 over first-place Argentinos Juniors would all but secure a berth in the 16-team knockout stage. … San Luis (1-2-2) is battling Peru's Universidad San Martin (2-3-0) and Colombia's Once Caldas (0-1-4) for Group 1's second spot in the round of 16. Jaguares (2-2-0) or Ecuador's Emelec (2-1-1) likely gets the No. 2 slot from Group 6.
LAST WEEK'S HIGHLIGHTS: Atlante (5-5-1) surged atop Group 2 and into the overall top eight with a 5-1 dismantling of last-place Jaguares as Christian Bermudez and Fonseca scored two goals apiece. Fonseca has four in his past two games and will look to add to the total April 2 at Tigres, his former club. … Red cards played a big role in both of the big showdowns, with America falling to Monterrey, 2-1, after Andres Olivera was dismissed in the 17th minute, and Toluca was down to nine men by halftime of a 1-0 loss at Cruz Azul. … Erick Torres scored twice to lift Guadalajara past Gallos Blancos, 2-0. … First-place Pumas UNAM missed a penalty kick in a scoreless draw with Pachuca. Tigres, which dropped from second to fourth after a 0-0 tie with Estudiantes Tecos, snatched a point when Mauro Cejas missed a PK for the Owls.
Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Estudiantes Tecos 0, UANL Tigres 0
Cruz Azul 1, Toluca 0
Monterrey 2 (W. Ayovi 47, Carreño 69), America 1 (A. Reyna pen. 89)
Guadalajara 2 (E. Torres 5, 71), Gallos Blancos 0
Santos Laguna 0, Morelia 1 (Marquez Lugo 86)
San Luis 1 (W. Aguirre 78), Atlas 1 (M. Ortega 89)
Atlante 5 (Bermudez 18, 49, M. Ortiz 30, Fonseca 34, 77), Jaguares 1 (C. Valdes 90)
Puebla 1 (Y. Corona 80), Necaxa 0
Pumas UNAM 0, Pachuca 0
Group 1: UANL Tigres 20 points, Monterrey 19, Guadalajara 15, Estudiantes Tecos 13, Necaxa 11, Santos Laguna 10
Group 2: Atlante 16, San Luis 16, America 16, Toluca 15, Atlas 15, Pachuca 10
Group 3: Pumas UNAM 25, Morelia 21, Cruz Azul 21, Puebla 13, Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 11, Jaguares de Chaiapas 8
Overall (top 8): 1. Pumas UNAM 25 (+12 goal difference); 2. Morelia 21 (+8); 3. Cruz Azul 21 (+8); 4. UANL Tigres 20 (+8); 5. Monterrey 19 (+5); 6. Atlante 16 (+7); 7. San Luis 16 (+2); 8. America 16 (+1). Playoffs: If season ended now, top eight would qualify
Relegation percentage: 1. Necaxa (28 games/27 points) 0.9643; 2. Gallos Blancos (62/69) 1.1129; 3. Jaguares (96/110) 1.1458; 4. Atlas (96/113) 1.1771; 5. Atlante (96/115) 1.1979
Jornada 12 (all times Pacific)
Friday, April 1
Guadalajara at Necaxa, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday, April 2
Pumas UNAM at Jaguares, 4 p.m.
San Luis at Gallos Blancos, 4 p.m.
Atlante at UANL Tigres, 6 p.m.
Cruz Azul at Santos Laguna, 6 p.m.
Estudiantes Tecos at Atlas, 7:45 p.m.
Sunday, April 3
Monterrey at Toluca, 10 a.m.
Pachuca at Morelia, 10 a.m.
Puebla at America, 2 p.m.
Schedule subject to change
1. Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis) 7
Christian Bermudez (Atlante) 7
Rafael Marquez Lugo (Morelia) 7
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 7
5. Hector Mancilla (UANL Tigres) 6
Angel Reyna (America) 6
7. Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 5
Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 5
Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 5
Erick Torres (Guadalajara) 5
Matias Vuoso (America) 5
12. Jaime Ayovi (Toluca) 4
Martin Bravo (Pumas UNAM) 4
Carlos Bueno (Gallos Blancos) 4
Francisco Fonseca (Atlante) 4
Miguel Sabah (Morelia) 4
1. Christian Benitez (Santos) 19
Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 19
3. Matias Vuoso (America) 15
4. Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 12
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 12
6. Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul) 11
Hector Mancilla (Toluca/UANL Tigres) 11
Miguel Sabah (Morelia) 11
9. Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis) 10
Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 10
Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey) 10
Johan Fano (Atlante) 10
Copa Libertadores standings
Group 1: Libertad (Paraguay) 11 points, Universidad San Martin (Peru) 6, San Luis 5, Once Caldas (Colombia) 4
Group 3: Argentinos Juniors (Argentina) 7, America 6, Fluminense (Brazil) 5, Nacional (Uruguay) 4
Group 6: Internacional (Brazil) 7, Emelec (Ecuador) 7, Jaguares 6, Jorge Wilstermann (Bolivia) 0
Last week's games (home teams listed first)
Copa Libertadores: Once Caldas (Colombia) 1 (L. Nuñez 79), San Luis 1 (J. Medina 90)
Copa Libertadores: Emelec (Ecuador) 1 (D. Quiroz pen. 53), Jaguares 0
CONCACAF Champions League: Monterrey 2 (N. Cardozo 9, S. Santana 55), Cruz Azul 1 (A. Cortes 48)
This week's games (home teams listed first)
Copa Libertadores: San Luis 3 (J. Medina 9, M. Arroyo 14, 75), Universidad San Martin (Peru) 1 (Quinteros 61)
Copa Libertadores: Fluminense (Brazil) 3 (Gum 21, Araujo 80, Deco 87), America 2 (V. Sanchez 15, 72)
LIGA DE ASCENSO
Last week's games (home teams listed first)
Altamira 2 (Zatarain 24, Collazo pen. 89), Lobos BUAP (Sara 7, M. Castillo 35)
Leones Negros 1 (M. Zepeda pen. 45), Cruz Azul Hidalgo 2 (Mariaca 46+, J. Garcia 54)
Veracruz 2 (M. Romero 38, Mascorro 81), Merida 1 (Guadarrama 71)
Indios de Ciudad Juarez 1 (Borboa 12), Irapuato 2 (A. Gonzalez 1, 9)
Dorados de Sinaloa 2 (R. Prieto 7, S. Quiroz 81), Alacranes de Durango (R. Martinez 28)
Leon 2 (B. Perez 22, pen. 26), Albinegros de Orizaba 0
Club Tijuana 2 (R. Enriquez 29, 51), Pumas Morelos 0
La Piedad 0, Atlante Neza 0
Idle: UAT Correcaminos
1. Irapuato 24 points; 2. Leon 22; 3. Club Tijuana 20; 4. Veracruz 20; 5. Atlante Neza 19; 6. Correcaminos 17; 7. Cruz Azul Hidalgo 17; 8. Altamira 17; 9. Dorados 14; 10. Leones Negros 13; 11. Albinegros 13; 12. Pumas Morelos 13; 13. Indios 11; 14. Alacranes 10; 15. La Piedad 10; 16. Merida 8; 17. Lobos BUAP 6
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Altamira at Correcaminos, 7:30 p.m.
Leones Negros at Pumas Morelos, 3 p.m.
Dorados at Albinegros, 5 p.m.
Club Tijuana at Irapuato, 6 p.m.
Merida at Alacranes, 6 p.m.
Veracruz at La Piedad, 11 a.m.
Indios at Atlante Neza, 11 a.m.
Leon at Lobos BUAP, 11 a.m.
Idle: Cruz Azul Hidalgo
Schedule subject to change
1. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 12
2. Blas Perez (Leon) 9
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 9
4. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 8
5. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 7
6. Raul Enriquez (Club Tijuana) 5
Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 5
8. Eder Pacheco (Veracruz) 4
Edgar Garcia (Alacranes) 4
Eduardo Herrera (Pumas Morelos) 4
Pablo Torres (Merida) 4
1. Eder Pacheco (Alacranes/Veracruz) 20
2. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 18
Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 18
4. Blas Perez (Leon) 14
5. Roberto Nurse (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 12
Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 12
Miguel Zepeda (Leones Negros) 12
8. Raul Enrique (Club Tijuana) 11
9. Juan Manuel Cavallo (Albinegros) 10
Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 10
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 10