Los Angeles Soccer: Atlante
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 Carreņo 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.”
Mexico City's Cruz Azul and Pumas UNAM, and Morelia, a favorite in Santa Ana, also advanced to the Clausura final four, and Club Tijuana took another step toward joining Mexico's top league this summer.
Hector Reynoso scored for Guadalajara, knocking home the rebound after Marco Fabian de la Mora followed up off the post after his penalty kick was saved.
Morelia tamed America, Mexico's biggest club, using two Joao Rojas goals and a Rafael Marquez Lugo penalty kick in a 3-2 triumph Sunday nioght to finish a 5-3 aggregate triumph.
Morelia will face Cruz Azul, which held Atlante scoreless in Cancun after a 2-1 win in the midweek opener.
UANL Tigres and Pumas UNAM dominated the Mexican Primera Division's winter/spring Clausura tournament. Both will need miracles to remain in contention for the title.
Top-seeded Tigres and No. 2 Pumas were stomped in playoff openers this week, both dropping 3-1 decisions in quarterfinal first legs. The other group winner, Atlante, also was beaten.
Third-seeded Morelia was the only away side to win, with Joao Rojas setting up Manuel Perez and Rafael Marquez Lugo in a 2-1 triumph Thursday over America in Mexico City.
Guadalajara, in one of its best performances this season, routed Tigres in Zapopan, Jalisco, using second-half goals by Mario de Luna and Marco Fabian de la Mora, on a penalty kick, to pull away after Jesus Molina's diving header pulled the visitors even just after halftime.
Osvaldo Martinez and Walter Ayovi netted early goals, and Chilean star Humberto Suazo scored his 20th of the Apertura/Clausura as Monterrey, winner of the fall Apertura, buried Pumas. The Mexico City club lost its second in a row after falling just once in their first 16 Clausura games.
Cruz Azul also prevailed, beating Atlante, 2-1, on two Christian Gimenez goals. The Argentine standout could have had a hat trick, but Potros goalkeeper Arturo Muņoz stopped his penalty kick in the 68th minute. Former Chivas USA forward Giancarlo Maldonado scored for Atlante in the seventh minute, his third goal in as many games and fifth of the campaign.
Second legs will be played Saturday and Sunday.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: Alejando Molina's finish leaves Club Tijuana just 270 minutes, if all goes its way, from promotion to the Primera Division.
The best surprise might have been no surprise, with the big boys, mostly, nudging out the pretenders and has-beens for the last of eight postseason berths in the Mexican Primera Division's spring championship.
The result is an open liguilla, with any of the eight more than capable of capturing the trophy, that will begin with four potentially dynamite quarterfinal showdowns.
The matchups, with first legs Wednesday and Thursday, second legs Saturday and Sunday, and the higher seed home on the weekend:
- 1. UANL Tigres (10-2-5) vs. 8. Guadalajara (6-4-7)
- 2. Pumas UNAM (10-2-5) vs. 7. Monterrey (7-5-5)
- 3. Morelia (9-4-4) vs. 6. America (8-7-2)
- 4. Atlante (8-6-3) vs. 5. Cruz Azul (7-5-5)
A quick rundown on each series:UANL TIGRES VS. GUADALAJARA
Wednesday at Zapopan, Jalisco
Saturday at San Nicolas, Nuevo Leon
Tigres: Ricardo Ferretti's move last summer from Pumas to Tigres has paid off handsomely for the long-time stragglers, who won their final four games (while scoring 11 goals) to pip Pumas at the wire for the top seed. The club from suburban Monterrey is making its first postseason appearance in five campaigns, since the 2008 Apertura, and it might be the team to beat, not so much on the seeding as on its defensive know-how. Ferretti's a defensive genius, and his schemes enabled Tigres to shut out 11 foes and concede just nine goals in 17 Clausura games.
Chivas: Guadalajara, which has been to the playoffs just once the previous five seasons, spent the season trying to gain maturity and experience at a rapid rate, playing well enough to draw -- 13 of its first 20 and 16 of its first 27 games finished even -- but rarely well enough to win. Four successive victories in March into April, fueled by Erick Torres' and Marco Fabian de la Mora's form up top, presented Chivas as contenders, but they closed 0-2-1, with a late loss last weekend to Monterrey.
Three of the eight playoff berths have been taken, and the fight for the final five is heating up as the Mexican Primera Division heads into its penultimate weekend of the regular season, with a dozen teams still in contention, but only eight of them really in the race.
- In: Pumas UNAM (9-1-5), UANL Tigres (8-2-5) and Morelia (8-3-4)
- On the verge: Guadalajara (6-3-6), Cruz Azul (7-5-3) and Atlante (7-6-2)
- Above the wire: Monterrey (6-5-4) and America (7-7-1)
- Just outside looking in: Toluca (5-5-5), Atlas (5-5-5) and Santos Laguna (6-7-2), all two points out of the final spot
- Alive, but not for long: Puebla (5-8-2), Pachuca (4-7-4) and Estudiantes Tecos (4-7-4)
- Out: Gallos Blancos (4-8-3), Necaxa (3-7-5) and Jaguares (3-10-2)
Pumas, Tigres and Morelia claimed their spots during last week's “doble jornada.” Pumas, on top of the overall table most of the Clausura campaign, can clinch the No. 1 seed -- rarely a winner in Mexico's playoffs -- with a win Friday night at Necaxa and Tigres' failure to win Sunday at Morelia in one of the two major showdowns this weekend.
The other big matchup pits Guadalajara, looking like a real contender the past month, against Cruz Azul in Mexico City. Chivas is fourth and Cruz Azul fifth, both with 24 points, and neither is likely to miss the postseason.
But the Cementeros are skidding. They've lost three of four, with losses to Santos, Morelia and Puebla, after challenging for the top spot most of the season. The 3-0 rout of Monterrey, which is falling at a quicker pace, might prove to be Cruz Azul's savior.
Monterrey is winless in its last four league games, its focus blurred by its CONCACAF Champions League title-series run and its game slowed by injuries to key players. A longtime shoulder ailment has prevented star Chilean forward Humberto Suazo from contributing the way he needs to, and forward Aldo de Nigris and midfielder Luis Perez, both Mexican national-teamers, will be out for three to four weeks with thigh injuries.
The top three sides in the overall table plus the top two teams in Group B were beaten over the weekend, a flurry upsets tightening the standings and rewarding Guadalajara for its first back-to-back victories since the full season began last summer.
Five of the top eight clubs were beaten:
- First-place Pumas UNAM (7-1-4) was stunned by three goals in the first 33 minutes, two by Antonio Salazar, in a 3-1 loss at last-place Jaguares.
- No. 2 Morelia (6-3-3) lost for the second time in three games -- a 3-1 decision at home against Group 2 cellar-dweller Pachuca -- to dip to third, still four points off the lead.
- No. 3 Cruz Azul (6-3-3) gave up a first-minute goal (to Carlos Quintero) and never recovered, falling, 3-0, at Santos Laguna, which had lost its previous five.
- No. 6 Atlante (5-6-1), the Group 2 leader, gave up both goals in a 2-0 loss to UANL Tigres after Alex Diego's red card and dropped to eighth overall and three points behind America in the group standings.
- No. 7 San Luis (3-3-7) let an early two-goal lead disappear in a 3-2 loss to Gallos Blancos, which is seeking to avoid relegation to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso. The Gladiadores fell out of the playoff zone, to 11th place.
Tigres (6-1-5), again without Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein, vaulted to second overall, two points behind Pumas, and America strengthened its hold on a postseason spot with a wild 5-4 triumph over Puebla. Angel Reyna netted a hat trick -- he leads the Primera Division with nine Clausura goals -- and Vicente Sanchez added a pair for the Aguilas, who had a 4-0 lead by the 33rd minute.Marco Fabian de la Mora's 70th-minute free kick lifted Guadalajara (4-2-6) to a 2-1 triumph at Necaxa, pushing Chivas to seventh, just their second time in the top eight since summer.
MORE BIG GAMES: How often is the Super Clasico not the game of the week? There's plenty at stake when America visits Guadalajara on Saturday -- both teams are fighting for playoff berths -- but there's a bigger game Sunday: No. 1 Pumas vs. No. 2 Tigres. It's the second 1-vs.-2 showdown for Pumas, which beat Morelia, 1-0, in that situation March 13.
Atlas, the worst team in the fall, opened the second half of the Mexican Primera Division season with a stunning romp that underscores coach Benjamin Galindo's savvy eye for talent.
The Guadalajara-based club, which made several major additions to its roster during the winter break, opened the spring Clausura on Saturday with a 5-0 domination of visiting Morelia.
Gerardo Espinoza matched his Apertura goals total, scoring twice, to lead the Zorros. Former Chicago Fire defender Wilman Conde scored in his Mexican League debut, and 19-year-old Christian Diaz (in his first top-tier game in more than a year) and Daniel Osorno (with his first of the season) also tallied.
“I congratulated the guys in the locker room because [there was] not a single player who did not have a good performance. It speaks well of the commitment that exists with the team,” Galindo told reporters afterward.
“It's a good win which gives us confidence, but that's all. What we have to do is keep working with the same commitment that we had during the preseason.”
Atlas went through three coaches in a 3-10-4 fall campaign, but Galindo, a former Mexican national-teamer, went shopping in four countries to strengthen the club. Conde, Brazilian midfielder Lucio Flavio (from Botafogo) and midfielder Lucas Ayala (from UANL Tigres) contributed to the win Saturday.
BIG BOYS BEATEN: America got robbed. Monterrey got jobbed.
America, a sure title contender, saw two perfectly good goals erased on mistaken offside calls in a 2-0 home loss to Pachuca, which got goals midway through each half by Yulian Anchico and then Edgar Benitez.
Monterrey, which last month won the Apertura title, was outclassed at home by San Luis, also 2-0 -- with the Gladiadores' first goal, by Osmar Mares in the 71st minute, clearly offside. Juan Carlos Medina's sweet chip in stoppage, with the Rayados down a man, doubled the advantage.
Chivas USA is done with Venezuelan striker Giancarlo Maldonado, declining its option in the loan agreement with Mexico's Atlante after he failed to impress during four months of Major League Soccer play.
Maldonado scored just twice with an assist in 10 MLS games, netted one goal in three SuperLiga matches, and also played in one U.S. Open Cup games with Chivas. He rarely made an impression until the final weeks of the season, when he was fully fit and seemed to have adjusted to the league's more physical, athletic nature.
Maldonado, Venezuela's all-time scoring leader with 20 goals in 53 international appearances, spent nearly a month with the Goats before a loan agreement with Atlante was reached July 7. He had burst upon the scene with 46 goals in two full seasons, with Chile's O'Higgins and Atlante, but has scored just nine league goals since.
Reports from Mexico are that Atlante might sign him rather than seek another loan deal elsewhere.
Miguel Herrera is returning home, more or less, to turn Atlante's fortunes around. The veteran coach, who played for the Potros and then guided them through five campaigns in 2002-04, was hired Tuesday by the Cancun-based club.
“I'm home, and I'm grateful,” Herrera said when presented to the media. “I know the institution well, and I have confidence to reach our goals.”
Atlante has reached the Mexican Primera Division playoffs just once since winning the 2007 Clausura championship and finished this fall's Apertura campaign in 16th of 18th clubs, with a 4-9-4 record. Herrera takes over for Argentine Eduardo Bacas, who in September stepped in for Rene Isidoro Garcia, who took over last summer for longtime coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz.
Atlante won the CONCACAF Champions League title in 2009 and finished fourth in last year's FIFA Club World Cup. But it has struggled domestically the past five years and sits fourth from the bottom in the relegation index, the six-season formula that determines which club drops to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso at the end of each Clausura tournament.
“Our priority,” club president Miguel Angel Couchonnal said, “is to get out of this mess.”
And so the Potros -- the Colts -- are bringing Herrera home.
The former defender, a fiery player and emotional coach, started and ended his playing career with the club, which relocated from Mexico City to Cancun in 2007. He spent four stints with Atlante, then guided it to a 38-28-31 record and three playoff appearances after he was hired as head coach in February 2002.
He left the club after the 2004 Clausura and guided Monterrey for all or part of seven tournaments, taking the Rayados to Primera Division title home-and-homes in the 2004 Apertura (losing to Pumas UNAM) and 2005 Apertura (losing to Toluca).
He was unable to save Veracruz from relegation two years ago, and was dismissed in August from Estudiantes Tecos. He had been in charge of the Guadalajara-based club since September 2008.
NEW DATES: The Mexican federation altered the originally reported dates and times for the semifinals in the Primera Division and Liga de Ascenso. All first legs will be Thursday and all second legs Sunday.
Here's the schedule (all times Pacific):
First leg (Thursday)
Santos Laguna at America, 5 p.m.
Monterrey at Pumas UNAM, 7 p.m.
Second leg (Sunday)
America at Santos Laguna, 4 p.m.
Pumas UNAM at Monterrey, 6 p.m.
Liga de Ascenso
First leg (Thursday)
Club Tijuana at Albinegros de Orizaba, 5 p.m.
Veracruz at Irapuato, 6:50 p.m.
Second leg (Sunday)
Albinegros de Orizaba at Club Tijuana, 1 p.m.
Irapuato at Veracruz, 5 p.m.
ETC.: Santos' Oribe Peralta is out for the rest of the playoffs after fracturing his foot at the end of Los Guerreros' quarterfinal triumph over Jaguares. … Uruguayan coach Gustavo Matos will succeed Argentine Angel David Comizzo as head coach of Queretaro's Gallos Blancos. … Tomas Boy will return as Morelia's coach; he said last month he did not plan to be back. The former Mexican national team midfielder has been in charge of the Monarcas since February 2009. … Former Toluca goalkeeper Hernan Cristante, 41, says he's looking into possibilities in Major League Soccer. … Salvador Cabaņas' wife told a Paraguayan radio station that her husband, a star striker who hasn't played since he was shot in the head at a Mexico City nightspot 10 months ago, is owed $1.3 million in back wages and benefits by America and will sue if ongoing negotiations do not lead to a settlement.
America is peaking at the best possible time. Toluca is crumbling when it counts. The impact on the Mexican Primera Division's Apertura campaign is massive.
The Aguilas clinched a berth in the eight-team playoff Liguilla with a 1-0 victory at Atlante, courtesy of Matias Vuoso's eighth goal of the season, and head into their final regular-season outing -- against Mexico City rival Pumas UNAM -- with three-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks.
Pavel Pardo converted a stoppage-time penalty kick against Atlante, but referee Paul Delgadillo ordered a retake for encroachment, and Potros goalkeeper Moises Muņoz saved Pardo's second attempt.
America, which is atop Group 2 and fourth overall, behind Santos Laguna on goal difference (plus-8 to plus-7), appears to have shored up its defensive problems, and the relationship among Vuoso, playmaker Daniel Montenegro and former Toluca star Vicente Sanchez has solidified just when it most matters.
“We're there, and we were able to get there,” America coach Manuel Lapuente said after Saturday night's victory, according to Reforma. “We're playing well … we've finished the league well, although we have a game against Pumas to play, and we cannot lose at home. We're going to put a lot of effort into that game. This isn't over until it's over, and we're going to fight to climb one spot higher.”