Los Angeles Soccer: Eder Pacheco
Santos Laguna and Monterrey, who met in last year's Apertura final in Mexico's Primera Division, are smoking foes. Rising Guadalajara's approach is more measured. And reigning champ Pumas UNAM is defying expectations.
They're the four sides that have won in each of the first two weekends of the current Apertura, and three of them faces a difficult slate in this week's “doble-jornada.”
Santos, atop the standings with a plus-6 goal difference -- Atlante last weekend was the Guerreros' second three-goal victim -- have it easier, taking on promoted Club Tijuana, which continues to seek its first Primera victory.
Pumas, which dismantled its side after winning the Clausura in May, has shut out both of its opponents, San Luis and Morelia. Things get much tougher this week: Monterrey on Wednesday in Mexico City and Saturday at Chivas.
- THE TOP 3
1. XOLOS XLIP AGAIN: Tijuana so dominated the Liga de Ascenso most of last season, and it added real quality with the jump to the Primera Division, so perhaps expectations for the Xoloitzcuintles' first campaign in the top division were a tad high? Too early to tell. Their early schedule certainly has done favors.
Acuņa, 21, scored in his first start in Mexico's top league to lead Gallos Blancos de Queretaro (2-4-1), who started the week at the bottom of the Clausura standings, to a stunning 2-0 triumph at Santos Laguna (3-3-1).
Acuņa scored in the third minute -- he took a pass from Eder Borelli as he slipped past the backline, dribbled past goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez and knocked the ball into the open net -- and fed Carlos Bueno for the second goal just before halftime.
“His behavior went against the values that the club stands for and promotes, which is why the decision was taken to end our working relationship with immediate effect,” the club said in an announcement on its Web site. Said club president Alejandro Irarragorri: “This is a deeply hurtful decision, but we must be consistent with our values and responsibility as a model team. Ruben reacted negatively to pressure from the fans, and that's something we can't cover up.”
Fellow Argentine Diego Cocca, 38, was hired to replace Romano. Cocca, a former right back who counts Atlas, Veracruz and Gallos Blancos among the nearly dozen clubs for which he toiled, previously has managed three Argentine clubs, most recently La Plata's Gimnasia y Esgrima.
Acuņa, who is with Queretaro on loan from America, played 35 minutes in a 5-0 loss Feb. 12 to Toluca. He made his debut last April 10, playing five minutes for America in a victory over Jaguares.
SINCE 5-0: The most alarming result of the Clausura occurred in week one, when Atlas, the worst team in the fall Apertura, throttled a decent (or so we thought) Morelia side, 5-0. After three games, Atlas had matched its fall win total and sat atop the overall table.
Jonathan Bornstein has brought UANL Tigres some needed luck. Give Danilinho and Hector Mancilla some credit, too.
The club from suburban Monterrey, known more for its disappointments than its triumphs, are atop the Primera Division's Clausura standings after Danilinho set up one goal and scored another in a 2-0 victory Saturday over visiting Cruz Azul.
Up next: Clasico Regiomontano rival Monterrey, which won the Apertura crown in December and has prevailed in three of its last four games.
Bornstein, who joined Tigres after five seasons with Chivas USA, made his fourth start (going 45 minutes) for UANL (4-1-1), which is 4-0-0 with the UCLA/Los Alamitos High School product in the lineup and winless when he's left on the bench.
Danilinho, a Brazilian midfielder who arrived from Jaguares, and Mancilla, a Chilean forward acquired from Toluca, have been huge additions, and their partnership proved too much for Cruz Azul (3-2-1), which fell from third to fifth overall with the loss.
Mancilla scored the first goal, a one-touch finish in the 69th minute after Danilinho burst past two defenders to the right byline and sent in a cross. The Brazilian added the second deep into stoppage, setting up his shot with a superb first touch.
Monterrey (3-3-0, in ninth overall) also won, routing Jaguares, 4-1, as Chilean World Cup star Humberto Suazo had a hat trick -- giving him 19 goals for the fall/spring campaign -- and Dario Carreņo set up two goals, one my Aldo de Nigris.
FALL FROM FIRST: Pumas UNAM's time atop the overall standings was short. The Mexico City club dropped to third overall after an error by goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios and missed penalty kick by former Chivas USA forward Francisco Palencia allowed Guadalajara to escape with a 1-1 draw.
America has righted things in a hurry, reeling off two more wins in the past week to leap into the overall top five and all but push the horrid-by-club-standards 0-2-1 start out of mind.Matias Vuoso scored three goals as the Aguilas (3-2-1) routed San Luis, 3-0, and dominated Gallos Blancos de Queretaro, 3-1, to push Chilean coach Carlos Reinoso's mark to 3-0 in his third stint in charge of the Mexico City giant.
"We've gotten good results, but we've been at this just 10 days," Reinoso told media as America began preparations for Friday's match at last-place Necaxa. "Suddenly, people are asking us to be more offensive ... but we're improving little by little, and what makes me happy is that the players have received [my] message."
The Aguilas dismissed Manuel Lapuente in a panic after sandwiching home losses to Pachuca and UANL Tigres around a draw with Jaguares, but the move worked as well as hoped. America responded to the firing with a 2-0 victory over previously perfect Atlas on Jan. 29, and it was more impressive in Wednesday's win over San Luis, a forward makeup -- the match was initially scheduled for April 13.
Vuoso converted two penalty kicks against San Luis and scored the second goal, just before halftime, against Gallos Blancos. Sunday's win wasn't assured until Aquivaldo Mosquera's 86th-minute goal.
"We went back to basics," Vuoso, who has five Clausura goals and 15 for the fall/spring season, explained to the Mexican media. "[Lapuente] had nothing to do with [the poor start] -- it was us, the players. We had forgotten the basics, forgotten to play as before, as we usually do. ... It was the fault of the players, not the fault of other people."
IN MONTERREY: Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein, making his third start of the season for Group 1 leader UANL Tigres (3-1-1), set up Hector Mancilla's eighth-minute opener in a 2-0 victory at Santos Laguna. The home side was without top scorer Christian Benitez, who has an ankle injury.
Tigres' crosstown rival Monterrey (2-3-0) also posted a 2-0 victory, over Pachuca on Aldo de Nigris and Neri Cardozo goals, to vault to 11th in the overall standings. The Rayados have shutouts in four of their past five home games. Pachuca turned to former Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez and fellow U.S. World Cup pick Jose Francisco Torres, giving each his first Clausura start, but the Tuzos (1-2-2) fell to the bottom of Group 2 after failing to score for the third time in four games.
Cruz Azul's legacy of failure grew deeper Saturday, an indifferent performance -- marred by injury, ejection and a late penalty kick -- leading to the top seed's ouster from Mexico's Primera Division playoffs.
Juan Carlos Cacho converted an 83rd minute penalty kick to complete Pumas UNAM's comeback from defeat in the first leg of the quarterfinals, providing a 2-0 victory for a 3-2 aggregate triumph in a battle of Mexico City giants.
Martin Bravo struck in the second minute for Pumas, which must await Sunday's results to learn its semifinal opponent.
America also advanced to the final four, a 4-1 rout over San Luis at Estadio Azteca to reach the semifinals for the first time since losing to Pachuca in the 2007 Clausura final.
Cruz Azul was seeking its first Mexican title since 1997. La Maquina has lost in the title series in three of the last six tournaments and fallen in the CONCACAF Champions League final the past two seasons.
With two weeks to go in the Mexican Primera Division's Apertura season, here's where we stand in the battle for the eight playoff berths:WHO'S IN: Cruz Azul, Monterrey and Santos Laguna -- Nos. 1, 2 and 3 nearly all season -- claimed spots during last week's "doble jornada"; the Cementeros are guaranteed a top-two seed, and Monterrey is on the verge of wrapping up the other.
So last week's showdown at Estadio Tecnologico was perhaps a title-series preview, and, in a small surprise, first-place Cruz Azul (11-2-2) romped to a 4-2 victory, handing the second-place Rayados (9-1-5) only their second defeat in 33 regular-season matches over 51 weeks. Cesar Villaluz, part of Mexico's 2005 U-17 World Cup-winning side, scored twice for the victors.
So ... who's the team to beat should both reach the final? Go with Monterrey, which won last year's Apertura. Cruz Azul has lost in the past two Apertura finals and in the past two CONCACAF Champions League finals.
Jaime Lopez/Getty Images
Vicente Sanchez, left, of America vies for the ball with Jonny Magallon of Chivas during Sunday's game.
The rule of thumb is you play to win at home and to tie on the road, but Sunday’s 0-0 draw at America in the 206th edition of Mexico’s “Super Clasico” wasn’t enough for Guadalajara, which faces a difficult path to get into the Primera Division’s Apertura playoffs.
Chivas (3-3-7) are fourth in Group 1 and 11th overall, and they’re only two points behind eighth-place America (4-3-6), which held onto its spot in the playoff zone despite its third successive draw. But the Goats finish with a brutal schedule, with games in this week’s “doble jornada” against fifth-place (and reigning champion) Toluca and at third-place Santos Laguna, followed by showdowns with No. 1 Cruz Azul on Nov. 6 and at No. 2 Monterrey on Nov. 13.
Six clubs -- Pumas UNAM, Morelia, Pachuca, Puebla, Gallos Blancos in addition to Guadalajara -- are within three points of a top-eight slot, and only Cruz Azul and Monterrey are assured of playoff berths, realistically if not mathematically.
“Now we depend on what other teams do, and that is a very complicated position,” Jose Luis Real, Guadalajara’s head coach, told the media following Sunday’s draw. “But we can’t surrender -- we are going to try to qualify. As long as we are alive, we will fight for the postseason.”
Chivas have won just once in its last eight games and have picked up only seven of 12 points against the division’s three worst clubs: They lost at Atlante in August, beat crosstown rival Estudiantes Tecos in early September, managed only a 2-2 draw with Atlas, their other Guadalajara rival, the first weekend in October, and beat Necaxa last week.
In games against eight of the nine clubs battling for the final four postseason berths -- Toluca is the ninth -- the Goats are 0-2-6, 0-2-2 at home.