Los Angeles Soccer: Erick Torres
Honduras snared its berth in Saturday's semifinals in Kansas City, Kan., with a by-the-numbers 2-0 triumph over Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night at Home Depot Center. A victory over El Salvador will send the Catrachos to their third men's soccer tournament in four Olympic games.
It was going to take a miracle to knock Mexico out of the top spot -- El Tri had clinched a semifinal berth Sunday -- and Panama, despite a spirited battle, wasn't going to post the nine-goal win required to do so. It had nearly sewn up a scoreless draw when Guadalajara's Erick Torres, making his first appearance of the tournament, scored in stoppage for a 1-0 victory that thrilled most of the 10,061 in attendance.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
Honduras and Mexico did what was required and little more.
The Catrachos weren't particularly sharp, but they engineered two scoring plays -- one fortunate, the other precise -- to overcome a game T&T side. Eddie Hernandez and Anthony Lozano assisted each other's goals.
CARSON -- The Ghost of Olympic Qualifiers Past haunts Mexico, so to speak, only when the media is around. And so it was Thursday, when Luis Fernando Tena, head coach of El Tri's under-23 national team, was greeted by cameras and tape recorders in a room deep in the bowels of Home Depot Center.
Mexico has failed to qualify for two of the past three Olympic Games' men's soccer tournaments, shockingly so just four years ago, and so the pressure has been amped considerably for this CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
Tena, whose team opens Group B play in the nightcap of a doubleheader Friday night at HDC, tries not to take notice.
“This 'ghost' arrives only when you ask about it,” Tena said in response to a question during a 15-minute news conference. “We don't pay a lot of attention to it. We're aware of history, of what happened four years ago, but a lot has changed. Four years is a long time in soccer. We want to focus on now and what this tournament is.”
This tournament, which kicked off Thursday night in Nashville, will determine the region's two entrants for men's soccer at this summer's London Games. Mexico, along with the U.S., is expected to snag one of the berths, and the roster Tena and full national team coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre has put together appears can't-miss.
All but one of 20 El Tri players is in the Mexican Primera Division -- CONCACAF's best league, hands down -- and most of them play key roles for big clubs. More than half have played for the national team. There are a few big stars (Guadalajara's Marco Fabian de la Mora is the name to remember) and major up-and-comers (Guadalajara's Erick Torres has drawn “Chicharito” comparisons).
And Mexican soccer, riding a golden generation that just might contend for a World Cup title in a couple of years -- no, really -- has unprecedented confidence.
It might not be enough. Tena, whose coaching career has included stints in charge at America, Cruz Azul, Morelia and Santos Laguna, already has tipped Honduras to win the group, a little psychology at play, perhaps, but a popular pick. The Catrachos have played in two of the last three Olympics, joining the U.S. at the 2000 Games in Sydney and four years ago in Beijing.
Panama, which faces Honduras in Friday's 6 p.m. opener, has four players from its semifinal team at last year's Gold Cup, CONCACAF's nation's championship. Trinidad & Tobago, the Caribbean's top team, faces Mexico at 8:30.
CARSON -- The rosters for CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament are finally out, and just in time: Group A, which includes the United States, kicks off this afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
We're concerned more with Group B in these parts. Mexico, with a dynamic side starring rising Guadalajara stars Erick Torres and Marco Fabian de la Mora, is the marquee team at Home Depot Center, where the first of three under-23 doubleheaders is slated for Friday night.
Mexico's roster is filled with Primera Division talent: 14 of the 22 players on El Tri's roster are regular starters in the country's top league, and several -- Marco Fabian, Toluca midfielder Nestor Calderon, Pumas UNAM midfielder Javier Cortes, Monterrey defender Darvin Chavez and UANL Tigres defender Israel Jimenez -- are downright veterans. A dozen have seen time with Mexico's full national team, and a half-dozen played for Mexico's U-20 team at last year's World Cup.
Calderon, who turned 23 last month, has been a first-choice player for Toluca since 2008 and has scored 22 goals in 133 Primera Division games. Marco Fabian netted 17 goals in last two tournaments and has 27 in 123 games for Guadalajara.
One Amercan-born player on the roster, too: Guadalajara's Miguel Angel Ponce, a Sacramento-born, Tijuana-raised left back who played in San Ysidro during his development.
Mexico is looking to qualify as simply as possible after its stunning failure to advance from group play in the Beijing qualifiers four years ago.
The top two teams advance to this summer's London Games, and the U.S. -- which has 14 MLS players, five from Europe and Club Tijuana's Joe Corona -- and Mexico are expected to fill the slots.
Honduras, which includes D.C. United's Andy Najar, the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year, figures to test Mexico in Group B. The teams meet in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader. Panama, also in Group B, features four players from the Gold Cup semifinalists last summer.
El Salvador, in Group A, includes Panorama City's Richard Menjivar (Monroe HS), a senior last fall at Cal State Bakersfield. He played for the U.S. under-18 national team in 2008.
Here are the rosters for the Group B teams:
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.
Acuña, 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).
Acuña 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.
Acuña, 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.
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.
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 Muñoz 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.”