MEXICO: Loaded field for liguilla

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
9:44
PM PT

The best surprise might have been no surprise, with the big boys, mostly, nudging out the pretenders and has-beens for the last of eight postseason berths in the Mexican Primera Division's spring championship.


The result is an open liguilla, with any of the eight more than capable of capturing the trophy, that will begin with four potentially dynamite quarterfinal showdowns.

The matchups, with first legs Wednesday and Thursday, second legs Saturday and Sunday, and the higher seed home on the weekend:
  • 1. UANL Tigres (10-2-5) vs. 8. Guadalajara (6-4-7)
  • 2. Pumas UNAM (10-2-5) vs. 7. Monterrey (7-5-5)
  • 3. Morelia (9-4-4) vs. 6. America (8-7-2)
  • 4. Atlante (8-6-3) vs. 5. Cruz Azul (7-5-5)

A quick rundown on each series:

UANL TIGRES VS. GUADALAJARA
Wednesday at Zapopan, Jalisco
Saturday at San Nicolas, Nuevo Leon


Tigres: Ricardo Ferretti's move last summer from Pumas to Tigres has paid off handsomely for the long-time stragglers, who won their final four games (while scoring 11 goals) to pip Pumas at the wire for the top seed. The club from suburban Monterrey is making its first postseason appearance in five campaigns, since the 2008 Apertura, and it might be the team to beat, not so much on the seeding as on its defensive know-how. Ferretti's a defensive genius, and his schemes enabled Tigres to shut out 11 foes and concede just nine goals in 17 Clausura games.

Chivas: Guadalajara, which has been to the playoffs just once the previous five seasons, spent the season trying to gain maturity and experience at a rapid rate, playing well enough to draw -- 13 of its first 20 and 16 of its first 27 games finished even -- but rarely well enough to win. Four successive victories in March into April, fueled by Erick Torres' and Marco Fabian de la Mora's form up top, presented Chivas as contenders, but they closed 0-2-1, with a late loss last weekend to Monterrey.
Previous meetings: Both regular-season clashes were draws, 1-1 in September at Tigres and 0-0 in March at Guadalajara.

PUMAS UNAM VS. MONTERREY
Thursday at Monterrey
Sunday at Mexico City


Pumas UNAM: The university side was on target for the top seed until the final day of the regular season, but it knows well the lack of success No. 1 teams have had recently. There was Monterrey a year ago, and Pumas stunned top seed Cruz Azul in the Apertura playoffs six months ago. They were unbeaten in their first 11 Clausura games and had shut out seven of eight opponents, behind a defense featuring Dario Veron and goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios, before last weekend's loss to America.

Monterrey: CONCACAF's club champion now seeks its third Primera title in four campaigns, after winning the past two Aperturas. The Rayados also posted the best record in last year's spring tournament, then was upended in their playoff opener. Injuries deprive Monterrey of forward Aldo de Nigris and midfielder Luis Perez, both Mexican national-teamers, but Chilean World Cup star Humberto Suazo is the league's best goal-getter, and he shines in pivotal situations.

Previous meetings: Monterrey's dramatic run to the Apertura title was fueled with a late 2-0 triumph -- with goals in the 80th minute and in stoppage -- in a semifinal second-leg. The Rayados also won, 5-2, back in August. The semifinal first-leg was scoreless, and Pumas won in January, 3-2. Suazo scored in three of the four games.

ATLANTE VS. CRUZ AZUL
Wednesday at Mexico City
Saturday at Cancun


Atlante: The Potros are back in the playoffs for the first time since falling to Cruz Azul in the 2008 Apertura (one year after toppling the Cementeros en route to the Apertura title), and they're a lot hotter than their opponent. The addition of Francisco “Kikin” Fonseca has helped Atlante, which finished 16th in the fall, close with a five-game unbeaten streak and 5-1-2 mark in its last eight.

Cruz Azul: There's been only one win in the past six games -- 3-0 over Monterrey -- as the Cementeros hung on to a spot in the top eight, their 11th playoff appearance in 13 campaigns. Christian Gimenez and Emanuel Villa can be the Primera Division's best attacking combo when in tune, and Gerardo Torrado still provides a regal presence in midfield, but consistency has been a problem.

Previous meetings: Cruz Azul won at home, 2-0, in July; Atlante romped, 3-0, at home in January.

MORELIA VS. AMERICA
Thursday at Mexico City
Sunday at Morelia


Morelia: Nobody would have guessed the Monarcas were playoff-bound, and as the third seed, after a 5-0 debacle against Atlas in their Clausura opener. But manager Tomas Boy, relying on Elias Hernandez's creativity and rising forward Rafael Marquez Lugo's finishing, crafted an eight-game unbeaten streak followed by a 4-3-1 finish, two of those losses to No. 1 Tigres and No. 2 Pumas. Morelia reached successive semifinals in the 2009 Apertura and 2010 Bicentenario/Clausura.

America: The underachieving Aguilas have as much attacking talent as any team in the league, but only Angel Reyna has been in superior form and defensive breakdowns have repeatedly taken them out of games. Mexico's biggest club is tired of waiting for a title -- they went to the semifinals in the fall, lost in the quarterfinals the two previous tournaments, and failed to qualify for the liguilla in the three campaigns before that -- which prompted their panic-driven dismissal of Manuel Lapuente, for Carlos Reinoso, after a 0-2-1 start.

Regular season: The visitor won both meetings, America (2-0) in September and Morelia (2-1) in February.

THE FINAL WEEKEND: The battle for postseason berths was solved over four hours Saturday, with a series of results awarding the bigger clubs while filling in the eight-team liguilla bracket.

Monterrey's victory at Guadalajara, on Walter Ayovi's 89th-minute goal, ensured that the Clausura champion was in (and Santos Laguna was out), and Chivas and Cruz Azul were through with Tigres' romp over Atlas. San Luis was finished when its game with Cruz Azul finished scoreless, and Atlante won Group 2 and eliminated Toluca with a 2-1 victory in the night's final goal.

That left America and Atlas, and all the Aguilas had to do was win, draw or lose by just one goal against Pumas UNAM. Their 2-0 triumph, on second-half strikes by Matias Vuoso and Reyna, was more noteworthy for giving Tigres the regular-season title.

ETC.: Tigres surrendered just one shot in its 3-0 rout of Atlas. … Jaguares closed a horrid Clausura by routing Gallos Blancos, 4-1, but still finished bottom of the table with 14 points (4-11-2), one behind relegated Necaxa. … Former Chivas USA forward Giancarlo Maldonado scored the first goal in Atlante's victory. … Hernandez (Morelia) and Jackson Martinez (Jaguares) scored twice in victories; de la Mora (Guadalajara) did so in defeat. … Over the full fall/spring season, with everybody facing everyone else home and away, Cruz Azul posted the best record (19-7-8), five points better than Pumas UNAM (17-8-9). The Celeste was 12-2-3 in the fall Apertura but was upset in the first round of the playoffs. … Apertura champ Monterrey (16-8-10) posted the No. 4 mark. … Best improvement from Apertura to Clausura: 11 points (Tigres, from 24 to 35; and Atlante, 16 to 27. Pumas, 25 to 35, and Morelia, 21 to 31, jumped by 10). Biggest drop-off: 13 (Cruz Azul, 39 to 26).

LIGA DE ASCENSO: Club Tijuana scored four goals in the first 35 minutes and cruised to a 5-1 victory in their quarterfinal home leg Sunday to finish off Cruz Azul Hidalgo and advance to this week's final-four showdown with regular-season champ Leon.

Irapuato, which proceeded through its first-stage series on a Cuauhtemoc Blanco penalty kick, will meet Atlante Neza in the other semifinal.

Tijuana won on aggregate, 7-3, rallying for a 2-2 draw in Jasso, Hidalgo, on Raul Enriquez's 74th-minute goal. Javier Yacuzzi had two in Sunday's clash, including the first of four from the 19th through 35th minutes to decide the series. Enriquez also tallied.

The Xolos' Estadio Caliente is without lights, so Wednesday's first leg will be played at noon in Tijuana.

Blanco's 76th-minute PK gave Irapuato a 1-1 aggregate tie with Dorados de Sinaloa, and the Strawberry Lashers advanced as the higher seed. Atlante Neza topped Correcaminos, winning the second leg, 1-0, on Diego Mejia's goal.

AMERICANS ABROAD: San Diego's Joe Corona scored the first goal for Tijuana in the first leg against Cruz Azul Hidalgo, his fourth of the Clausura and fifth of the season. … Jose Francisco Torres and Herculez Gomez went the distance for Pachuca in a 1-1 draw with Necaxa, and Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce started his fourth straight match for Guadalajara since returning from injury. … Gomez's five goals for the fall/spring is tops among Yanks in Mexico's top division. He scored 10 last spring for Puebla. … Three Americans -- Ponce, Atlante's Sonny Guadarrama and Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein, who has played sparingly for Tigres -- are headed to the Primera Division playoffs.

COPA CALL: Monterrey gave Mexico its third win in three CONCACAF Champions League seasons -- and sixth straight in the region's club championship -- using Suazo's goal in first-half stoppage for a 1-0 triumph over Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah. The Rayados, who follow Atlante and Pachuca as CONCACAF titlists, prevailed on aggregate, 3-2, and advance to December's FIFA Club World Cup.

America on Tuesday was eliminated from Copa Libertadores with a 0-0 draw at home against Santos in the second leg in the round of 16. The Brazilians, who likely will get top-seeded Cruzeiro, also from Brazil, in the quarterfinals, won their home leg, 1-0, on Ganso's first-half goal.

Jaguares rallied through Martinez for a draw with Colombia's Junior in their home leg in the round of 16, and on Thursday visit Junior in Barranquilla needing a victory or a draw with at least four goals to advance. A 1-1 draw would force overtime and possibly penalty kicks; 0-0 would favor Junior. The winner will meet Paraguay's Cerro Porteņo or Argentina's Estudiantes de La Plata in the quarterfinals.
  • PRIMERA DIVISION

Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Friday

Estudiantes Tecos 1 (Cejas 10), Santos Laguna 3 (Ludueņa 21)
Saturday
Jaguares 4 (I. Fuentes 47, J. Rodriguez 55, J. Martinez pen. 78, 92+), Gallos Blancos 1 (C. Bueno 16)
Guadalajara 2 (de la Mora 3, 82), Monterrey 3 (Osorio 45, J. Zavala 72, W. Ayovi 89)
UANL Tigres 3 (H. Mancilla 5, Lobos 46, A. Pulido 89), Atlas 0
Pachuca 1 (Anchico 15), Necaxa 1 (Iņiguez 62)
San Luis 0, Cruz Azul 0
Atlante 2 (G. Maldonado 8, M. Ortiz 74), Toluca 1 (Zinha pen. 74)
Sunday
Puebla 0, Morelia 2 (E. Hernandez 73, 84)
Pumas UNAM 0, America 2 (Vuoso 59, A. Reyna 92+)

Standings
Group 1:
x-UANL Tigres 35 points, x-Monterrey 26, x-Guadalajara 25, Santos Laguna 23, Estudiantes Tecos 17, Necaxa 15
Group 2: x-Atlante 27, x-America 26, Atlas 23, San Luis 21, Toluca 21, Pachuca 18
Group 3: x-Pumas UNAM 35, x-Morelia 31, x-Cruz Azul 26, Puebla 18, Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 16, Jaguares de Chiapas 14
Overall (top 8): 1. UANL Tigres 35 (+17 goal differential); 2. Pumas UNAM 35 (+14); 3. Morelia 31 (+8); 4. Atlante 27 (+11); 5. Cruz Azul 26 (+5); 6. America 26 (+3); 7. Monterrey 26 (+3); 8. Guadalajara 25 (+8). Playoffs: Top eight qualify.
Relegation percentage: 1. Necaxa (34 games/31 points) 0.9118 (relegated to Liga de Ascenso)
x -- clinched playoff berth

This week's games (all times Pacific)
Quarterfinals, first leg
Wednesday
Atlante at Cruz Azul, 5 p.m.
UANL Tigres at Guadalajara, 7 p.m.
Thursday
Pumas UNAM at Monterrey, 5 p.m.
Morelia at America, 7 p.m.
Quarterfinals, second leg
Saturday
Guadalajara at UANL Tigres, 5 p.m.
Cruz Azul at Atlante, 7 p.m.
Sunday
Monterrey at Pumas UNAM, 10 a.m.
America at Morelia, 6 p.m.
Schedule subject to change

LEADING SCORERS
Clausura
1. Angel Reyna (America) 13
2. Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis) 10
3. Christian Bermudez (Atlante) 9
Carlos Bueno (Gallos Blancos) 9
Hector Mancilla (UANL Tigres) 9
Rafael Marquez Lugo (Morelia) 9
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 9
8. Marco Fabian de la Mora (Guadalajara) 8
9. Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 7
Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 7

Apertura/Clausura
1. Christian Benitez (Santos) 21
2. Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 19
3. Matias Vuoso (America) 16
4. Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 14
Marco Fabian de la Mora (Guadalajara) 14
Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul) 14
Angel Reyna (America) 14
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 14
9. Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis) 13
Hector Mancilla (Toluca/UANL Tigres) 13

FINAL CLAUSURA/APERTURA STANDINGS
1. Cruz Azul 19-7-8, 65 points
2. Pumas UNAM 17-8-9, 60
3. UANL Tigres 16-7-11, 59
4. Monterrey 16-8-10, 58
5. America 15-11-8, 53
6. Santos Laguna 16-13-5, 53
7. Morelia 14-10-10, 52
8. Guadalajara 10-7-17, 47
9. San Luis 12-11-11, 47
10. Atlante 12-15-7, 43
11. Toluca 10-11-13, 43
12. Pachuca 11-13-10, 43
13. Jaguares 10-15-9, 39
14. Puebla 10-17-7, 37
15. Atlas 9-16-9, 36
16. Gallos Blancos 9-17-8, 35
17. Estudiantes Tecos 8-18-8, 32
18. Necaxa 7-17-10, 31

OTHER GAMES
CONCACAF Champions League
Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Wednesday
Final, second leg:
Real Salt Lake (MLS) 0, Monterrey 1 (Suazo 46+); Monterrey wins on aggregate, 3-2

Copa Libertadores
Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Wednesday
Round of 16, first leg:
Jaguares 1 (J. Martinez 57), Junior (Colombia) 1 (Paez 6)
Round of 16, first leg: Santos (Brazil) 1 (Ganso 38), America 0
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Tuesday
Round of 16, second leg:
America 0, Santos (Brazil) 0 (Santos advances on aggregate, 1-0)
Thursday
Round of 16, second leg:
Jaguares at Junior (Colombia), 7 p.m.
  • LIGA DE ASCENSO

Past week's games (home teams listed first)
Quarterfinals, first leg
Wednesday

Dorados de Sinaloa 0, Irapuato 0
Thursday
Cruz Azul Hidalgo 2 (E. Marin 64, 69), Club Tijuana 2 (J. Corona 12, R. Enriquez 74)
Correcaminos 1 (R. Morales 64), Atlante Neza 1 (Atilano 58)
Quarterfinals, second leg
Saturday
Irapuato 1 (Blanco pen. 76), Dorados de Sinaloa 1 (Flores pen. 38)
+ 1-1 aggregate; Irapuato advances as higher seed
Sunday
Atlante Neza 1 (D. Mejia 16), Correcaminos 0
+ Atlante Neza advances on aggregate, 2-1
Club Tijuana 5 (J. Yacuzzi 19, 84, R. Enriquez 26, Gerk 31, A. Moreno 35), Cruz Azul Hidalgo 1 (J. Garcia 85)
+ Club Tijuana advances on aggregate, 7-3

This week's games (all times Pacific)
Semifinals, first leg
Wednesday
Leon at Club Tijuana, noon
Irapuato at Atlante Neza, 2 p.m.
Semifinals, second leg
Saturday
Atlante Neza at Irapuato, 4 p.m.
Club Tijuana at Leon, 6 p.m.
Schedule subject to change

LEADING SCORERS
Clausura
1. Blas Perez (Leon) 14
2. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 13
3. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 12
4. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 11
5. Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 10
6. Raul Enriquez (Club Tijuana) 8
7. Miler Castillo (Lobos BUAP) 7
Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 7
9. Edwin Borboa (Indios de Ciudad Juarez) 6
Edgar Garcia (Alacranes de Durango) 6
Eduardo Herrera (Pumas Morelos) 6
Rodrigo Prieto (Dorados de Sinaloa) 6

Apertura/Clausura
1. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 22
2. Eder Pacheco (Alacranes/Veracruz) 21
3. Blas Perez (Leon) 19
4. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 18
5. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 15
6. Raul Enrique (Club Tijuana) 14
Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 14
8. Roberto Nurse (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 13
Miguel Zepeda (Leones Negros) 13
10. Miler Castillo (Lobos BUAP) 11
Felipe Flores (Dorados de Sinaloa) 11
Nelson Maz (Veracruz) 11
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 11

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