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 Porteņo, 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.
CLAUSURA FINAL, FIRST LEG
Morelia 1 (Rojas 73), Pumas UNAM 1 (Palencia 68)
CLAUSURA FINAL, SECOND LEG
Morelia at Pumas UNAM, 6:30 p.m.
LIGA DE ASCENSCO
PROMOTION FINAL, FIRST LEG
Irapuato 0, Club Tijuana 0
PROMOTION FINAL, SECOND LEG
Irapuato at Club Tijuana, 1 p.m.
QUARTERFINALS, SECOND LEG
Cerro Porteņo (Paraguay) 1 (P. Benitez 72), Jaguares (Mexico) 0
+ Cerro Porteņo advances on aggregate, 2-1
Cerro Porteņo (Paraguay) vs. Santos (Brazil)
Velez Sarsfield (Argentina) vs. Peņarol (Uruguay)