Los Angeles Soccer: Irapuato
The Blues will face Mexico's under-20 national team on Feb. 25 and Mexican second-tier club Irapuato on March 10, both of them 7 p.m. starts at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium.
El Tri's U-20s include Cruz Azul's Martin Galvan, who has attracted interest in Europe after making his first-team debut 40 days shy of his 15th birthday, Monterrey forwards Jesus Manuel Corona and Luis Madrigal, and UANL Tigres defender Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Riverside/Saddleback HS).
The U-20s also will face UCLA on Feb. 28 at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys.
Irapuato features goalkeeper Sergio Arias, who was No. 3 on Chivas USA's depth chart last year.
Tickets for each game are $20 ($10 for 12-under) and available from the Blues at 714-738-8011 or on the team's Facebook page.
The Xolos, through San Diego's Joe Corona, toppled Irapuato, 2-1, Saturday afternoon to claim promotion to the Primera Division in front of 33,000 fans at Estadio Caliente.
The crowd went wild as the club's dream of ascension from the second-tier Liga de Ascenso was realized.
Corona scored in the 29th minute and fed Mauro Gerk for an other goal in the 32nd as the Xoloitzcuintles -- Mexican short-haired dogs -- responded to referee Oscar Macias' failure to reward an obvious goal just a few minutes earlier.
Irapuato got its goal in the 38th, an own goal, with Tijuana defender Alejandro Molina knocking home an in-swinging free kick Margarito Gonzalez.
La Trinca (the Strawberry Lashers) were without Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who suffered a knee injury in Wednesday's first leg, a scoreless draw.
Tijuana, which won the fall Apertura title and went 24-6-15 in the combined Apertura/Clausura season, was the superior team over the two-game series, which followed another two-game series between the clubs in the spring Clausura final. Irapuato won that one, forcing the promotion final.
It's a massive boost to the region and to Tijuana's identity as a major Mexican city, and Southern California soccer fans stand to benefit. The country's big clubs -- America and Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and Pumas UNAM, Monterrey and Toluca, Morelia and Pachuca -- will play real, league matches just a short drive away, with the biggest foes, America and Chivas, possibly at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
The Xolos, fighting for a berth in the Primera Division, took Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Co. through 90 scoreless minutes Wednesday night, giving them the upper hand when the Liga de Ascenso's promotion final wraps up Saturday afternoon at Estadio Caliente in Tijuana.
Goalkeeper Leonin Pineda was masterful almost to the end, and Javier Gandolfi marshaled a superb defensive effort for the Xolos, who were forced into the promotion series after losing to Irapuato in last week's two-legged spring Clausura final. La Trinca, or the Strawberry Lashers, captured the title with a 1-0 home victory.
Tijuana captured the fall Apertura championship and would have automatically won promotion to the top league, to join the likes of Guadalajara, America, Cruz Azul and Monterrey, had it pipped Irapuato for the Clausura crown. A victory at home Saturday will send them up.
The Federacion Mexicana de Futbol on Monday confirmed dates and times for this week's championship games, and Club Tijuana will learn its fate Saturday.
The Primera Division's Clausura championship, the one that most matters, will be played Thursday and Sunday, with Morelia home for the first leg and Mexico City-based Pumas UNAM host of the second leg.
Tijuana, which is bidding for a spot in the Primera Division, meets Irapuato on Wednesday and Saturday in the Liga de Ascenso's promotion final. Tijuana won the fall Apertura title but lost to Irapuato in last week's spring Clausura final.
The first leg is in Irapuato, and Tijuana will be home, at Estadio Caliente a few miles south of the border, for Saturday's 1 p.m. finale.
Club Tijuana's quest for the Primiera Division must wait another week.
The Xolos were beaten Saturday at Irapuato in the Clausura final's second leg, a 1-0 decision giving La Trinca -- or the Strawberry Lashers -- a 2-1 aggregate triumph to claim the second-tier Liga de Ascenso's spring-season championship.
That sets up two more games between the rivals in the promotion final, Thursday in Irapuato and next Sunday, the 22nd, at Estadio Caliente in Tijuana, with the victor claiming promotion to Mexico's top league.
Tijuana won the fall Apertura championship and would have gained promotion automatically by winning the Clausura, too.
Jose Cruz scored the goal for Irapuato in the 86th minute, diving in a crowded box to head home Gandhi Vega's cross from the right wing.
Tijuana had its chances, largely through San Diego's Joe Corona on the right flank, but Irapuato, led by Cuauhtemoc Blanco, had the better of the action.
The Primera Division's Clausura finalists will be determined Sunday, when Guadalajara visits Pumas UNAM and Cruz Azul plays at Morelia. Chivas-Pumas went 1-1 in the first leg, and Cruz Azul won, 2-0.
Cruz Azul, seeking its first Mexican title since 1997 and only its second since 1980, dominated Morelia, 2-0, Thursday night as Argentines Christian Gimenez and Emanuel Villa, La Maquina Celeste's top attackers, scored first-half goals.
Guadalajara rallied for a 1-1 draw with visiting Pumas UNAM as Omar Arellano netted an 89th-minute equalizer.
Sunday's second legs will determine next week's finalists.
Club Tijuana and Irapuato drew, 1-1, in the first leg of the second-tier Liga de Ascenso's final.
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.
If the Diablos Rojos fail to reach the Clausura playoffs -- and they're two points out with one weekend to go in the regular season -- it will be Sunday's 4-4 draw responsible for all the rolling heads.
Toluca, one of Mexico's most successful clubs the past decade and a half, skidded out of contention down the stretch during the fall Apertura, and now this: Surrendering a four-goal halftime lead at home in a 4-4 draw with lowly Estudiantes Tecos when a win would have vaulted the Red Devils to seventh or eighth, depending on the margin of victory.
A 47th-minute own goal, strikes in the 54th and 80th by former Chivas USA forward Eduardo Lillingston, and Juan Carlos Leaņo's 84th-minute equalizer left Toluca (5-5-6) 10th overall and fourth in Group 2, two points away from the dividing line.
It's a tight fit heading into the final nine games, with five playoff berths still available and nine teams in the race. Guadalajara (6-3-7) and Cruz Azul (7-5-4), who played to a 1-1 draw Saturday, have 25 points; one of them definitely gets through, probably both.
Twenty-three points is the median at the moment, with Atlas (6-5-5) and Monterrey (6-5-5) above the line and America (7-7-2) just below. The most fluid race is in Group 2, which will supply two and potentially three teams to the quarterfinal field; five of the six teams are alive, with one point one point separating the top three.
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.
It has not been easy. The Los Angeles-born, Las Vegas-raised forward, who emerged as team MVP when the Galaxy won the 2005 MLS Cup title, has struggled to make an impact off Pachuca's bench after scoring 10 goals, most of them as a substitute, in last year's Clausura, or spring, tournament.
Gomez, whose exploits at Puebla led to a roster spot for the U.S. at last year's World Cup, scored just once during the fall Apertura and had been held without a goal this Clausura as the Tuzos slumped near the bottom of the standings. Until last weekend.
The 29-year-old forward came off the bench, naturally, to score twice and set up a third goal as Pachuca (4-5-4) routed last-place Jaguares, 3-0, to vault from 16th to 12th overall and within three points of the playoff zone.
Gomez came on in the 63rd minute for Edgar Benitez, gave Pachuca a 70th-minute lead on a near-post header, then struck a sensational free kick for a 2-0 advantage in the 78th. A minute later, he assisted Franco Arizala.
“Thanks for never loosing [sic] faith,” Gomez tweeted after the game. “I know this is just the beginning for us. Feels great to score but it feels even better to win at home.”
This does seem familiar. Pachuca, which has won five Primera Division titles since 1999 and last year claimed its third CONCACAF Champions League titles in four years and fourth since 2002, won its final three regular-season games to get into the Apertura playoffs, exiting after holding to-be-champion Monterrey to two draws.
The schedule is pliable. The Tuzos, still last in Group 2, have a real test Wednesday night at Group 1 leader UANL Tigres, but their final three foes (Atlas, Gallos Blancos and Necaxa) are minnows in unremarkable form.
A FEW ANSWERS: Gomez celebrated his big day by holding a Q&A with fans on his Facebook page. A few highlights:
Q: Do you have a pregame pump-up song?
A: Journey, “Don't Stop Believin'.”
Q: Which comes first, the U.S. national team or your club team?
A: My club pays me, but my country made me.
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.
Club Tijuana loses so rarely that every defeat is unexpected, except perhaps Saturday's at Irapuato.
The Strawberry Lashers (8-2-3), along with second-place Leon, have been the class of the second-tier Liga de Ascenso since the Clausura kicked off in January, and their 2-0 triumph over the Xolos -- on two Cuauhtemoc Blanco strikes -- kept them two points clear atop the standings, five ahead of third-place Atlante Neza and 10 above the playoff line.
Expect a rematch, possibly in the Clausura final and more likely in the promotion final. Tijuana, as winner of the (fall) Apertura title, is already in the final series and will play the Clausura winner for a spot in the Primera Division. Irapuato just missed out on an Apertura title-series showdown with the Xolos in December, losing to Veracruz in the semifinals after conceding twice in five minutes near the end of the second leg.
Saturday's victory was Irapuato's fourth in a row, fifth in six games and left it 6-1-1 in the last eight. Tijuana (5-2-5), which had San Diego's Joe Corona on one wing, had won its previous four and was unbeaten in 10, since a 1-0 surprise at Altamira in its Jan. 21 Clausura opener. The Xolos fell from third to sixth in the standings.
Tijuana's other loss since July? At Indios de Ciudad Juarez, 1-0, back on Nov. 6. The Xoloitzcuintles' overall record, playoff games included: 18-3-12.
Look who's becoming a star. Calexico's Isaac Acuņa, who had played all of four minutes of Mexican Primera Division futbol before Feb. 12, scored for the second successive week as Gallos Blancos de Queretaro battled to hold off Necaxa in the relegation fight.
Acuņa, 21, took his time this week, not tallying until the seventh minute in a 1-1 draw Saturday with mighty Cruz Azul. He scored just three minutes into Gallos Blancos' 2-0 victory at Santos a week earlier. He debuted for the club, and made just his second top-flight appearance, the week before that.
Queretaro overcame two red cards to snare a point in a testy battle. There were four yellow cards in the first five minutes, and Raul Ferro was dismissed before a dozen minutes were up, which led to Acuņa's departure in the 31st minute for tactical reasons.
The relegation battle appeared done when Gallos Blancos beat Necaxa on Jan. 29, but it has reignited as the streaking Rayos have posted three successive wins -- 1-0 over Santos Laguna last week -- and gone unbeaten in four games since Sergio Bueno took over after the loss to Queretaro.
“We must be aware of the situation, that we are still at the bottom of the percentage table and we need points ...,” Necaxa midfielder Paulo Cesar Chavez told reporters this week. “The reality is we're the last in the percentage table, and it is urgent. We need to get out of there.”
Gallos Blancos lost twice after beating Necaxa, and Acuņa's productivity has helped keep the club from the bottom spot in the relegation table, a points-per-game standings over three full (fall/spring) seasons.
How close is it? If Necaxa wins at Cruz Azul and Gallos Blancos loses at Monterrey on Saturday, the Rayos will no longer be in the basement. The lowest team at the end of the season heads to Liga de Ascenso.
GAME OF THE WEEK: America beat Toluca, 4-3, in a dynamite encounter that featured four goals in the first eight minutes of the second half -- two apiece, the last a gorgeous strike by America's Daniel Montenegro for a 3-2 advantage.
PLAYOFF REALITIES: Pumas UNAM (5-0-3) and UANL Tigres (5-1-2) put some distance on the field with lopsided home victories, and, barring collapse, are headed to the postseason.
So is Cruz Azul (4-2-2) and, increasingly it seems, Morelia (4-1-3). Everyone else? We'll see.