Los Angeles Soccer: Dante Lopez
Pumas UNAM and Morelia took care of business at home Sunday, posting emphatic victories to advance to the Primera Division's Clausura final.
Pumas overcame a slow start, with goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios making three huge saves in the first 23 minutes, to topple Guadalajara, 2-0, making for a 3-1 aggregate triumph in the two-games, total-goals semifinal series.
Morelia stunned Cruz Azul, 3-0, rallying from a two-goal disadvantage after the first leg to advance on 3-2 aggregate.
The final is tentatively slated for Thursday in Morelia and next Sunday in Mexico City, but Mexico's soccer federation will finalize plans Monday.
Rafael Marquez Lugo erased Morelia's deficit with goals in the ninth and 12th minutes, then set up Jaime Lozano for a late strike moments after Joel Huiqui made a series-saving stop on the goal line. Had the game ended 2-0 (and the series at 2-2), Morelia would have advanced as the higher seed.
Javier Cortes curled a free kick inside the right post just before halftime to give Pumas command, and Dante Lopez tallied in the 76th minute following a superb Dario Veron run.
Pumas, which was atop the regular-season standings through most of the winter/spring Clausura, was expected to push through after a 1-1 draw in the first leg Thursday in Zapopan, Jalisco. Morelia's triumph was not anticipated, not after Cruz Azul scored twice in the first half in a 2-0 first-leg win.
Sunday's game in Morelia turned ugly at the end, after a fan ran onto the field and tried to shake Cruz Azul captain Gerardo Torrado's hand. The Mexican national team veteran refused the request, and his teammates attacked the fan. That prompted some Morelia players to intervene, and a brawl quickly broke out, with Cruz Azul's Christian Gimenez trading punches with the fans and two Cruz Azul goalkeepers, backup Yosgart Gutierrez and starter Jose de Jesus Corona, attacking a member of Morelia's technical staff.
Referee Francisco Chacon red-carded Gimenez, his Cruz Azul teammates Julio Cesar Dominguez and Isaac Romo, and Morelia's Miguel Sabah. Corona, who escaped punishment, faces a lengthy ban for head-butting the Morelia staffer.
America settled for a 0-0 draw at San Luis in Wednesday's other Apertura quarterfinal first leg. Two more series begin Thursday; second legs will be played this weekend.
Gimenez's long-range free kick was deflected by Horacio Cervantes past Pumas goalkeeper Sergio Bernal to pull La Maquina even in the 33rd minute, and his volley from outside the box provided a 73rd-minute lead. Pumas, which dominated play early and went ahead through Dante Lopez in the 19th minute, will need a two-goal victory in Saturday's rematch across Mexico City to move on; higher-seeded teams advance if aggregate is even.
Guillermo Ochoa made three big saves, two on Ignacio Ambriz, and survived a Tressor Moreno blast off the crossbar for America, which has the advantage heading into Saturday's second leg in Mexico City. The fourth-seeded Aguilas were content to sit back and defend as San Luis, which included America Edgar Castillo in its lineup, pressed the issue most of the match.
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.”