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Tuesday, August 16, 2011
MEXICO: Pumas stays on top

By Scott French

Enough about how Pumas UNAM was supposed to fold after gutting its lineup in the glow of last May's celebration for winning the Mexican Primera Division's spring Clausura championship.

The Cats, on a youth movement, haven't lost a step and head into Jornada 6 on the Apertura slate with 11 points, enough to pip Guadalajara atop the table. They're doing it with defense, too, just like they used to before Ricardo Ferretti took his clamp-down game to UANL Tigres (and promptly posted the best regular-season mark in the Clausura).

Only two goals have been scored on on Pumas, one of them in last week's 1-1 draw with Santos -- rising star Oribe Peralta followed his great goal for Mexico against the U.S. with the opener in Mexico City. Eduardo Herrera brought Pumas even in the 80th.

1. TEAM TO BEAT: Pumas might be No. 1 in the standings, but No. 1 in Mexico's heart (sorry, America) is Guadalajara -- and it increasingly looks like Chivas could claim a record 12th Primera Division title this fall, and their first since 2006.

Even manager Jose Luis Real is admitting so -- and publicly, too.

“We have the attributes to be the best team in the tournament,” he told the Mexican media Tuesday, in advance of Guadalajara's showdown this weekend with third-place Monterrey. “The team is proving it can play, and we want to take it further, but it's a long tournament.”

Guadalajara, with Sacramento-born, Tijuana-raised Miguel Angel Ponce becoming an institution at left back, is 3-0-1, just one point behind Pumas but with one game -- at Tijuana, on Sept. 2 -- in hand.

They've got one soon-to-be superstar on the field in Marco Fabian de la Mora, who attracted global attention with those two strikes to beat Barcelona two weeks ago. And they'll get another, maybe brighter, star when teen forward Erick Torres returns from the FIFA U-20 World Cup, in which he'll lead Mexico against Brazil in a semifinal Wednesday.

Guadalajara's most impressive victory in ages, not counting the Barcelona friendly, arrived Friday. Somehow they won at Morelia, 2-1, on Antonio Gallardo's 79th-minue goal, despite being down to nine men following red cards to Jonny Magallon and Patricio Araujo.

2. RISING MINNOWS: It's not odd to see big jumps in the standings this early in the season (although it's hard to remember a team leaping from 15th to sixth with one win, as Altamira did in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso last weekend). And, of course, it's too early to think a top-eight spot today will translate into a playoff berth in another couple of months.

But let's take notice of Gallos Blancos and Estudiantes Tecos, long-time bottom feeders whose primary aim the next nine months is to avoid relegation to the Liga -- and one of them likely won't, unless promoted Tijuana really underachieves.

The Apertura table has Gallos Blancos (2-2-1), from Queretaro, eighth overall (and just one point out of fourth) following a stunning 3-1 triumph at Atlante on two Carlos Bueno goals, both from Daley Mena's service. Tecos (2-3-0) toppled Atlas, 2-0, with one goal by former Chivas USA forward Eduardo Lillingston to climb to ninth,

Tecos pulled off a bigger win two weeks ago, winning at America, and the suburban Guadalajara club played mighty Tigres close in a 1-0 defeat that followed.

3. HALL OF FAME: An international soccer Hall of Fame, with a definite Mexican slant, has opened in Pachuca, and the 30-strong opening induction class includes former L.A. Galaxy goalkeeper Jorge Campos and Dutch great Johan Cruyff, who spent a season with the old L.A. Aztecs three decades ago.

All the legendary names -- Pelé, Maradona, Beckenbauer, Zidane, Platini, di Stefano, Garrincha, Puskas, Eusebio, Charlton, etc. -- are featured among 15 international figures.

Half the class comes from Mexico, or Mexican clubs. In addition to Campos, the group is Antonio Carbajal, Hugo Sanchez, Horacio Casarin, Enrique Borja, Salvador Reyes, Ignacio Trelles, Evanibaldo “Cabinho” Castro, Miguel Marin, Luis “Pirata” Fuente, Carlos Reinoso, Guillermo Canedo, Jose Cardozo, Hector Hernandez and Raul Cardenas.

Would have been nice to see two others on the list, major figures who finished up with Chivas USA: backliners Claudio Suarez and Ramon Ramirez.

Calexico's Isaac Acuña set up Renato Gonzalez's 89th-minute equalizer that gave America a 2-2 draw at unbeaten UANL Tigres. ... Pachuca had a statement-making 3-0 victory over Toluca, a 3-0 romp. ... Monterrey fell for the first time this season, a 1-0 loss at San Luis on Christian Suarez's early goal. ... Dayro Moreno scored a fine seventh-minute goal for Tijuana, but the Xolos couldn't hold on in a 1-1 home draw with Puebla. ... Two games for Carlos Ruiz with Veracruz, and the (apparently former) Liga de Ascenso powerhouse hasn't scored. In fact, no goals (and six conceded) for the Tiburones Rojos (0-3-0) all season -- they're the only pointless team in the second tier.

Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Jornada 5
Morelia 1 (Manso 53), Guadalajara 2 (og Y. Corona 50, A. Gallardo 79)
San Luis 1 (C. Sanchez 11), Monterrey 0
Jaguares de Chiapas 1 (I. Fuentes 58), Cruz Azul 1 (og J. Chavez 6)
Pachuca 3 (Escueda 2, C. Rodriguez 33, Cejas 78), Toluca 0
UANL Tigres 2 (og Treviño 66, H. Mancilla 84), America 2 (C. Benitez 17, R. Gonzalez 89)
Atlas 0, Estudiantes Tecos 2 (Davino 42, Lillingston 86)
Atlante 1 (Maldonado 58), Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 3 (C. Bueno 30, 58, R. Vazquez 74)
Pumas UNAM 1 (E. Herrera 80), Santos Laguna 1 (O. Peralta 58)
Club Tijuana 1 (D. Moreno 7), Puebla 1 (Riascos 15)

Standings: 1. Pumas UNAM 11 points; 2. Guadalajara 10; 3. Monterrey 9; 4. Cruz Azul 8; 5. Santos Laguna 7; 6. UANL Tigres 7; 7. Pachuca 7; 8. Gallos Blancos 7; 9. Estudiantes Tecos 6; 10. San Luis 6; 11. Toluca 6; 12. America 5; 13. Puebla 5; 14. Tijuana 4; 15. Atlas 4; 16. Jaguares 4; 17. Morelia 3; 18. Atlante 3

Relegation percentage: 1. Tijuana (4 games/4 points) 1.0000; 2. Estudiantes Tecos (73/78) 1.0548; 3. Gallos Blancos (73/81) 1.1096; 4. Atlas (73/82) 1.1233; 5. Jaguares (72/81) 1.1250

This week's games (all times Pacific)
Jornada 6
Pachuca at Estudiantes Tecos, 6:10 p.m.
Club Tijuana at Cruz Azul, 2 p.m.
Jaguares at Gallos Blancos, 3 p.m.
Monterrey at Guadalajara, 5 p.m.
Morelia at Santos, 5 p.m.
San Luis at UANL Tigres, 5 p.m.
Pumas UNAM at Puebla, 10 a.m.
Atlante at Toluca, 10 a.m.
Atlas at America, 2 p.m.
Schedule subject to change

Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Jornada 3
Correcaminos 1 (Sara 33), Necaxa 1 (S. Blanco 24)
Leones Negros 0, Altamira 3 (Valadez 15, 70, Mares 82)
Pumas Morelos 1 (S. Medina 67), Cruz Azul Hidalgo 0
Irapuato 3 (P. Chavez 50, J. Miramontes 56, Caniza 81), Celaya 1 (J. Mendoza pen. 35)
Indios de Ciudad Juarez 0, Leon 1 (Maz 48)
Toros Neza 2 (J. Robles 2, Atilano 77), Merida 1 (E. Guzman 84)
Lobos BUAP 0, Dorados de Sinaloa 1 (Figoli pen. 20)
La Piedad 2 (E. Dos Santos 7, Nurse 64), Veracruz 0

Standings: 1. La Piedad 9; 2. Pumas Morelos 9; 3. Toros Neza 7; 4. Leon 7; 5. Irapuato 6; 6. Altamira and Dorados 4; 8. Indios 4; 9. Lobos BUAP 4; 10. Necaxa 4; 11. Correcaminos 2; 12. Leones Negros 2; 13. Cruz Azul Hidalgo and Merida 1; 15. Celaya 1; 16. Veracruz 0

This week's games (all times Pacific)
Jornada 4
Pumas Morelos at Altamira, 5 p.m.
Indios at Necaxa, 6 p.m.
Correcaminos at Veracruz, 2 p.m.
Lobos at Merida, 5 p.m.
Leones Negros at Dorados, 5 p.m.
Toros Neza at Leon, 6 p.m.
La Piedad at Celaya, 6:30 p.m.
Irapuato at Cruz Azul Hidalgo, 10 a.m.
Schedule subject to change

This week's games (all times Pacific)
Group Stage, Round 1
Real España (Honduras) at Santos Laguna, 5 p.m.
A: Morelia at Alajuelense (Costa Rica), 7 p.m.
Monterrey at Herediano (Costa Rica), 5 p.m.
C: FC Dallas (USA) at Pumas UNAM, 7 p.m.