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Thursday, May 19, 2011
MEXICO: Palencia's strike won't hold up

By Scott French

Francisco Palencia
Francisco "Paco" Palencia celebrates his goal for Pumas in the first leg of the Mexican league final Thursday.

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
Thursday

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

CLAUSURA FINAL, SECOND LEG
Sunday

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

PROMOTION FINAL, FIRST LEG
Wednesday

Irapuato 0, Club Tijuana 0

PROMOTION FINAL, SECOND LEG
Saturday

Irapuato at Club Tijuana, 1 p.m.

QUARTERFINALS, SECOND LEG
Thurday

Cerro Porteņo (Paraguay) 1 (P. Benitez 72), Jaguares (Mexico) 0
+ Cerro Porteņo advances on aggregate, 2-1

SEMIFINALS
Pairings

Cerro Porteņo (Paraguay) vs. Santos (Brazil)
Velez Sarsfield (Argentina) vs. Peņarol (Uruguay)