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MEXICO: Palencia's strike won't hold up

Francisco "Paco" Palencia celebrates his goal for Pumas in the first leg of the Mexican league final Thursday. AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo

Former Chivas USA striker Francisco "Paco" Palencia has scored plenty of goals in 17 years as a pro, but his blast Thursday night might have been the biggest. For at least five minutes.

Palencia, 38, rifled a shot to the upper-left corner to give visiting Pumas UNAM the advantage in Thursday's first leg of the Mexican Primera Division's Clausura final, but Morelia countered through Joao Rojas for a 1-1 scoreline heading into Sunday's finale in Mexico City.

Palencia, a former Mexican national-teamer who played in two World Cups and three Copa America tournaments, struck in the 68th minute. Efrain Velarde made a steal on the left flank, just above the Monarcas' box, and squared the ball to Palencia, who 25-yard, first-time rocket left Morelia goalkeeper Federico Vilar with no chance.

Rojas got the equalizer in the 73rd, racing forward to slot home a pass from Luis Gabriel Rey, beating Pumas netminder Alejandro Palacios from the top of the box to the lower-left corner.

Morelia, seeking its second title, nearly went ahead eight minutes later, but Rey's header sailed just past the left post.

Pumas, which has won six top-tier league titles, has a distinct advantage in the second leg. The Cats are 13-3-5 at home since the fall Apertura began last July and have lost just once at Estadio Olimpico Universitario, on May 1 to America, during the Clausura.

COPA CALL: Jaguares' unexpected run through Copa Libertadores is over. The Chiapas club was ousted in the quarterfinals, falling to Paraguay's Cerro Porteño, 1-0, in Asuncion for a 2-1 aggregate loss.

Pedro Benitez scored the goal for the Azulgrana, nodding the ball home in the 72nd minute after a poorly cleared corner kick.

FORMAT CHANGE: Mexico's soccer federation is making major alterations to the Primera Division schedule and format, it announced this week, going to a single table and abandoning the playoffs' knockout phase for a "liguilla" that will add a dozen games to the slate.

Eight of 18 teams will continue to advance to the postseason, but they'll play in two four-team, double-round-robin groups, with the victors advancing to the final.

The league has divided teams into three groups through a blind draw, with the top two teams in each group plus two wild cards moving on to the playoffs.

HEAD-BUTT SANCTIONS: Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona was removed from Mexico's roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and suspended for six Mexican Primera Division matches -- more than a third of the Apertura season that begins in summer -- for head-butting Morelia's trainer during Sunday's decisive game in the clubs' Clausura semifinal series.

Corona, expected to be a backup to America's Guillermo Ochoa at the June 5-25 regional nations championship, was replaced by Monterrey's Jonathan Orozco.

Christian Gimenez, one of three Cruz Azul players red-carded following a brawl late in Morelia's 3-0 victory, also was given a six-game ban, and three more from the Mexico City-based club -- forward Isaac Romo, head coach Enrique Meza and trainer Daniel Ipata -- were suspended for three games.

  • PRIMERA DIVISION

CLAUSURA FINAL, FIRST LEG

Thursday

Morelia 1 (Rojas 73), Pumas UNAM 1 (Palencia 68)

CLAUSURA FINAL, SECOND LEG

Sunday

Morelia at Pumas UNAM, 6:30 p.m.

  • LIGA DE ASCENSCO

PROMOTION FINAL, FIRST LEG

Wednesday

Irapuato 0, Club Tijuana 0

PROMOTION FINAL, SECOND LEG

Saturday

Irapuato at Club Tijuana, 1 p.m.

  • COPA LIBERTADORES

QUARTERFINALS, SECOND LEG

Thurday

Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) 1 (P. Benitez 72), Jaguares (Mexico) 0

+ Cerro Porteño advances on aggregate, 2-1

SEMIFINALS

Pairings

Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) vs. Santos (Brazil)

Velez Sarsfield (Argentina) vs. Peñarol (Uruguay)