Los Angeles Soccer: America
Santos Laguna needed a late miracle to reach the Mexican Primera Division's title series. Monterrey required only a little home cooking.
They'll face off this week in the home-and-home Clausura final, the first time the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds have reached the championship matches since 2000.
Top-seeded Santos got two late goals from Oribe Peralta to overcome UANL Tigres, winner of the fall Apertura title. Sunday's 2-2 draw in Torreon left aggregate at 3-3, and the Guerreros advanced with the better regular-season's finish.
Monterrey, seeking its third Mexican title in seven seasons, beat visiting America, 2-0, Saturday on goals by Jose Maria Basanta and Aldo de Nigris. The first leg, Wednesday at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, was scoreless.
The title series is a rematch of last month's CONCACAF Champions League final, which Monterrey captured on 3-2 aggregate for its second straight confederation title.
Santos is making its fourth appearance in a final in five seasons but is seeking its first title since the 2008 Clausura, eight campaigns ago. Monterrey beat Santos in the 2010 Apertura final.
Peralta's goals answered two in the first half by Hector Mancilla for Tigres, which was looking to set up a first title-series showdown with Clasio Regiomontano archrival Monterrey.
The No. 1 seed in Mexico's Primera Division playoffs had failed to advance from the quarterfinals in 13 of 20 postseasons, seven of nine and the last four in a row. Santos Laguna failed to follow form.
The Torreon-based Guerreros advanced to the semifinals Sunday, finishing off a 6-4 aggregate victory over Jaguares de Chiapas, and No. 2 Monterrey and No. 3 America joined them.
The only upset: UANL Tigres toppling fourth-seeded Morelia in the other opening series. And calling it an upset is gross exaggeration. Tigres, the No. 5 seed, won the Apertura title last fall and was in the top three most of the current Clausura season.
Santos will meet Tigres and Monterrey takes on America in two-leg series that begin Tuesday and Wednesday and conclude next weekend.
Club Tijuana came into the Mexican Primera Division's spring championship aiming for survival. They claimed more than that Sunday, nailing down their first postseason berth in the country's top league.
The Xolos, who would have qualified had Pachuca or Jaguares failed to win their games Saturday, needed at least a draw Sunday afternoon against visiting Pumas UNAM -- and pulled out a 1-1 tie, going ahead on Duvier Riascos' goal 12 minutes into the second half and holding on after Javier Cortes equalized in the 89th minute.
Tijuana (7-3-7) finished seventh among 18 clubs and will face second-seeded Monterrey (9-3-5) in the quarterfinals, opening at home Wednesday and playing away Saturday.
Tijuana was promoted from the second-tier Liga de Ascenso last year and finished 15th in the fall Apertura. One team is relegated every year, and the Xoloitzcuintles were at the bottom of the “percentages table” -- points per game over three years -- heading into the Clausura. They lost just once in their first 10 games to reach safe ground, and finished 3-1-2 to snare their berth.
Santos Laguna (11-3-3), runner-up to UANL Tigres in the Apertura and three times in the last four championships, is the top seed and will open against Jaguares de Chiapas. No. 1 isn't the most advantageous position: Regular-season champions have lost in their playoff openers the last four seasons, in seven of the last nine championships and 13 of the last 20.
The best bets, if history holds: Monterrey (second seeds have won six of the past 20 titles) or No. 3 America (third seeds have won eight times).
A quick rundown of the Clausura campaign:
- WHO'S IN
Santos closed with seven wins in its last eight games to hold off Monterrey (9-3-5), America (9-3-5), fourth-seeded Morelia (9-4-4) and fifth-seeded Tigres (9-4-4) for the top spot, clinching as Oribe Peralta scored his eighth and ninth goals in a 3-1 victory at Atlas. L.A.-born former Galaxy star Herculez Gomez netted five goals in just 417 minutes, plus another six to send the Torreon-based club to the CONCACAF Champions League final, which was won by Monterrey.
Mexico's Clausura, the second-half championship, kicks off in the Primera Division on Friday night, with Club Tijuana visiting Morelia.
The Xolos went unbeaten in their last eight games in the fall Clausura and hope that prods them up the table in the spring tournament -- they're looking to survive, since one club will be relegated to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso come May.
Here are seven things to follow in Mexico this spring:
Marco Fabian de la Mora's hat trick and another pair from Erick Torres -- his first two of the Apertura -- sparked Chivas' 5-2 rout of Zapopan rival Estudiantes Tecos, the Goats' first win in six games and their first under new coach Fernando Quirarte's guidance.
America ended a seven-game winless streak with a 3-0 romp at Monterrey, the Aguilas' first win since Fernando Tena took charge last month.
Guadalajara, which had scored five goals in its previous 7½ games, vaulted to third in the standings, just one point off the lead. America is still 16th but sits just three points from the playoff zone.
The Clasico, contested since 1943, is set for Sunday afternoon at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. America leads the all-time series, 73-69-63, but Chivas has won five of the last seven and has the better record in Mexican league play: 51-48-43.
Northern Mexico's biggest rivalry -- the Clasico Regiomontano, between crosstown rivals Monterrey and UANL Tigres -- also is this week, on Saturday at Tigres' Estadio Universitario.
- THE TOP 3
Former Galaxy standout Herculez Gomez has scored in four straight appearances and has six goals in just 577 minutes of action this season for Estudiantes Tecos.
He netted another in the Owls' 5-2 loss Saturday to Guadalajara and would have a dozen, scoring at this rate, if he were a full-time player.
The club from suburban Monterrey is back atop the Apertura after crushing previous leader Pumas UNAM on the weekend, scoring four first-half goals en route to a 4-1 decision.
Tigres (5-1-6) is even on points with Cruz Azul (6-3-3), which was denied two should-be penalty kicks before Javier Orozco netted two second-half goals in a 2-0 win over Puebla.
Jaguares (5-3-4), which was ahead two weeks ago, fell from second to sixth with a 1-0 loss at Pachuca (6-4-2), which climbed to fourth, just one point off the lead, after its third win (with a tie) in four games since the 5-0 disaster Sept. 10 at Tigres.
Santos (6-3-2), still with a game in hand over everybody except Morelia, and Pumas (6-4-2) also are two points back.
The biggest surge forward this week was made by Monterrey (5-5-2), which won in league for the first time since August -- early goals from Neri Cardozo and Dario Carreño starting the Rayados toward a 3-2 victory at Estudiantes Tecos -- to jump from 13th to eighth, into the playoff zone.
- THE TOP 3
Local hero Jonathan Bornstein's time in his mother's native land isn't going as planned. He's an afterthought at Tigres -- and given the club's success, who can say Ferretti is wrong -- with not one minute of league time since the Apertura began in July.
Bornstein (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS and UCLA), the former Chivas USA captain, has made Tigres' 18-player game roster just once, at the end of August, and has seen action only in three games with the club's under-20 side.
“It's definitely frustrating,” he told Major League Soccer's website. “I keep plugging away in training and doing the work, and, hopefully, when the times comes, I'll get the opportunity.”
Four of nine games in the 10th “jornada” in the fall Apertura finished at 1-1, including meetings between first-place Jaguares and fourth-place UANL Tigres and between Cruz Azul and Guadalajara, who sit in second and third.
Surprising Jaguares (5-2-3) rallied after conceding a late goal to Lucas Lobos, pulling even with Tigres (4-1-5) on Jorge Rodriguez's 89th-minute strike. Omar Arellano tallied in the first half for Guadalajara (5-2-3) and Edixon Perea in the second for Cruz Azul (5-2-3).
Fifth-place Pumas UNAM (5-3-2), the spring Clausura winner, won at Estudiantes Tecos to pull more or less even with the teams above it. The top three have 18 points, Tigres and Pumas 17, and Atlante sits just two points further behind after its fourth successive one-goal victory.
Another four teams have 14, and three more have 13. Sixteen of 18 clubs are firmly in the battle for eight playoff berths.
It's the makings for an incendiary finish.
- THE TOP 3
Monterrey has won the last two Apertura titles and last spring captured its first CONCACAF Champions League crown. The Rayados aren't playing like champions now.
They're 1-4-1 in league play since early August, and a 2-1 loss Saturday to Gallos Blancos in Queretaro dropped them from sixth to 11th in the table. The Champions League campaign also has been a trudge, with shutout losses at home against the Seattle Sounders and at Comunicaciones in Guatemala threatening to keep them from next year's quarterfinals and beyond.
That's not a misprint atop Mexico's Primera Division standings. Unfancied Jaguares, the Chiapas club that dropped 12 of 17 games and finished last during the spring Clausura, is, indeed, No. 1.
A 5-3 triumph Saturday over visiting America, with Edgar Andrade scoring two goals and setting up another, vaulted Jaguares (5-2-2) to the top spot, ahead of giants Cruz Azul and Guadalajara on goal difference, following a third successive victory.
Since dropping its first two Apertura matches, to Monterrey and Guadalajara, Jaguares has been Mexico's finest club, going 5-0-2 to climb from 18th -- last -- to 16th to 12th to sixth to fourth to first.
Previous leader Guadalajara (5-2-2) did its part, losing to Puebla, and No. 2 Tigres (4-1-4) suffered its first loss, a 1-0 decision at Atlante.
Jaguares also leapt past Cruz Azul (5-2-2), which toppled Monterrey, 2-1, in the week's featured match.
- THE TOP 3
1. ANOTHER CHANGE AT AMERICA
America's disastrous campaign finally hit bottom -- or close enough.
The Aguilas' loss at Jaguares cost technical director Carlos Reinoso his job, no surprise, and club legend Alfredo Tena has been brought in and asked to make things right.
There's plenty wrong at the Mexico City giant, which has won just one of its last eight league games -- and that over last-place Atlas -- and sits 16th of 18 clubs with the worst defensive record in the Apertura.
Reinoso, who took over for Manuel Lapuente last January after America opened last spring's Clausura with a 0-2-1 mark, was facing the ax when he submitted his resignation following the defeat in Tuxtla Gutierrez.
The most important moments were at the end for three Mexican Primera Division teams over the weekend. Stoppage-time strikes delivered a huge win for Morelia and gave Club Tijuana and Monterrey a share of the points in their matches.
Morelia (3-3-1), which still has a game in hand over most of the field stemming from the gunshots-halted clash last month at Santos Laguna, vaulted from 15th to 10th with a stunning 1-0 decision at Cruz Azul. Joao Rojas scored the 92nd-minute decider from Aldo Ramirez's penetrating feed.
Tijuana (1-4-3), which has been hamstrung by bad luck more so than bad form, was set to go down at Toluca after conceding another questionable penalty kick, but Jose Sand headed home Richard Ruiz's cross in the 92nd to provide a 1-1 draw.
Monterrey's push for a point was more dramatic. The Rayados (4-3-1), down to 10 men after Jesus Zavala's 21st-minute red card surrendered a two-goal advantage against Puebla as former Chivas USA forward Isaac Romo tallied twice in the second half. They were redeemed by a controversial penalty-kick call, and Luis Perez slotted home from the spot in the 94th for a 3-3 tie.
- THE TOP 3
1. TALE OF TWO ROUTS
UANL Tigres was the top team in the spring Clausura, winning the regular-season title before an upset loss in the first round of the playoffs. Pumas UNAM was crowned champion. They were on different sides of blowouts that appear to confirm their destinies this fall.
It worked for the club, too. Goals by Luis Perez and Humberto Suazo led Monterrey to a 2-0 triumph, ending a four-game stretch in which it was beaten by San Luis and Guadalajara in league play and the Seattle Sounders in the CONCACAF Champions League.
- THE TOP 3
Seems about time for Club America's bosses to cut ties with Carlos Reinoso, whether or not that would be the wisest move. The underachieving Aguilas, riding a string of disappointments despite always possessing some of Mexico's best talent, have won just two of six games in the Apertura and slipped to 11th overall with a 2-0 defeat at Pachuca.
Rumors are swirling, but he says he's going nowhere, that the speculation that he'll be dismissed is “normal” and doesn't bother him.
“I work here for free because I love America. Who wouldn't want to be here?” he told Mexican media this week. “I'm not leaving. We know and believe and want to succeed -- and we will succeed. We will achieve the objectives, which is to qualify for the playoffs and then fight for the title. ... America fans want the best for America, and the dream of all America fans is to be champion. So we are aware that we need to improve, that we must be in the final.”
Scenes of terror and turmoil unfolded at Santos Laguna's Estadio Corona in the most newsworthy event in the Mexican Primera Division last weekend, as gunshots rang out during the Guerreros' showdown with Morelia.
Players dropped to the turf, then scrambled off the field, and fans escaped from the stands and onto the stadium floor or ducked under seats after a series of explosions -- from outside the Torreon stadium, it turned out -- went off late in the first half Saturday.
Nobody at the game was hurt, but the stadium was evacuated and the match suspended amid great chaos. No word yet on when it will be rescheduled.
According to Mexican media, the trouble began when a pickup truck, allegedly carrying drug-cartel members, sped through a checkpoint and was chased by police. Once the truck was cornered, outside the stadium, a gun battle broke out. Part of the stadium afterward was pockmarked by bullet holes.
- THE TOP 3
No question, the club will contend for the Primera Division's fall Apertura title, especially once the attack catches up, as it should, to Brazilian manager Ricardo Ferretti's masterful defensive plan.
Mexico's Primera Division kicks off the first of its twin 2011-12 seasons Friday night, and fans in this region have a new dog to cheer for. Literally.
The Xoloitzcuintles of Club Tijuana, who take their name and mascot from semi-mythical Aztec hounds that, more or less, have descended into Mexican short-hairs, bring the best league south of the border right to the border -- and soon, perhaps, into San Diego.
The Xolos were the best team in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso last season and won promotion to the Primera in May, and Mexico's third-largest city isn't the only winner. The opportunity for soccer fans in Southern California to see the region's best league -- and storied clubs such as America, Guadalajara and reigning champion Pumas UNAM, in real competition -- is unprecedented, although tickets will be scarce.
Tijuana's Apertura opener Saturday night against Morelia, another club with a large So Cal following, is sold out. There are plans, not the least formalized, to bring games against Guadalajara and America -- the two biggest clubs in Mexico -- to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, but that appears at least a year off, provided the Xolos survive their first year in the Primera. We've seen so many times the promoted club relegated after just one Apertura/Clausura cycle, including Necaxa last season.
There are several Southern Californians in the league, too, including Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein (the former Chivas USA captain) at UANL Tigres, L.A.-born Herculez Gomez (the former Galaxy star) at Estudiantes Tecos, Orange's Michael Orozco Fiscal at San Luis, Calexico's Isaac Acuña at America and rising Tijuana winger Joe Corona, from National City.
A newcomer to the league is fading U.S. national-teamer DaMarcus Beasley, at Puebla.
The big change this year: No divisions. The two-season approach, with the fall Apertura and spring Clausura, remain, but now a single table will be used, with the top eight teams advancing to the postseason.
As always, every game, every team, will be televised in the L.A. area by Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46), Telemundo (KVEA/Channel 52), Azteca America (KAZA/Channel 54), Galavision and, not quite as often, on ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes. Select Liga de Ascenso games, usually involving Veracruz, also will be aired.
Here's a quick look at the Primera Division as the Apertura kicks off:
- 7 BETS TO WIN THE APERTURA
CARSON -- Edgar Castillo was on the field for Club America on Wednesday night at Home Depot Center, his second start in as many preseason games for the Mexico City giant -- another chance to prove he belongs.
The New Mexico native, who first signed with the Aguilas 2½ years ago but has mostly been on loan since, to UANL Tigres, San Luis and Puebla, appears to be in the Aguilas' plans, perhaps at left back, his natural position.
He spent some time there and a little in midfield as America rallied for a 2-1 win over Primera Division rival Atlas, with another American -- Calexico's Isaac Acuña -- scoring the 63rd-minute equalizer. Vicente Sanchez netted the winner in the 88th.
“My hopes are high ...,” Castillo, 24, said afterward. “I've been all over. Now I get to come back to America, and I'm telling you, I'm very happy to be back. They've given me a second chance to come back, and I've got to do things right to be a starter.”
He looked solid as the Aguilas dictated play much of the night in a spirited encounter that drew 16,241 to HDC, just as he looked good in last week's 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers up north.
Honduran forward George Welcome came off the bench to give Atlas a 50th-minute lead, scoring on a twisting header from Francisco Torres' free kick. Acuña headed home a cross from Oscar Rojas to pull America even, and Sanchez fired across the goal and inside the right post from Rosinei's feed for the winner.
The Mexican Primera Division's Apertura campaign is right on top of us, just a week and a half away, and friendlies will bring both of the country's giants to Southern California for preparatory friendlies.
Guadalajara's showdown next weekend in San Diego against Real Madrid has the higher profile, but America's match Wednesday night at Home Depot Center against league rival Atlas might be the more telling.
El Reto Aguila II, the second in what's expected to be annual or semiannual appearances by America in Carson, kicks off at 7:30 p.m., and the Mexico City giant already is facing heavy pressure. The Aguilas (Eagles) haven't won the league title since the 2005 Clausura and have claimed just two league championships since 1989, and they're coming off disappointing showings in last year's tournaments.
They've added for this season Ecuadoran forward Christian Benitez, who scored 21 goals last season for Santos Laguna, and Mexican national-teamer Paul Aguilar, who transferred from Pachuca. Both are away at Copa America, South America's club championship.
Tijuana also will play home games during the fall Apertura championship against Puebla, Gallos Blancos, Estudiantes Tecos, UANL Tigres, Pachuca, Jaguares and San Luis. All three of the Mexico City powers -- America, reigning champ Pumas UNAM and Cruz Azul -- will visit during the spring Clausura season.
Club officials have mused about playing home games against Guadalajara and America, Mexico's most popular clubs, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Both teams have massive followings in Southern California and throughout America's Southwest, and the games certainly would draw big crowds and possibly sell out.
Club Tijuana is buoyant after owner Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana, was freed from custody Tuesday after a federal judge dismissed weapons charges against him stemming from a June 4 military raid on his compound south of the border that seized 88 weapons and more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition. A judge refused a request by Baja prosecutors to keep Hank Rhon imprisoned in a murder investigation involving one of the weapons allegedly found.