Los Angeles Soccer: Jaime Lozano
MORELIA, Mexico -- FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders made history, and if that was good for Major League Soccer, it wasn't so grand for the Galaxy.
MLS is 2 for 2 in CONCACAF Champions League clashes in Mexico this summer, quite an achievement -- at least at the surface -- after the league's teams failed to win south of the border in its first 21 tries.
The Galaxy tries to make it three in a row Tuesday night, when it takes on Morelia in a Group A showdown at Estadio Morelos that figures to be much tougher than what Dallas or Seattle had to overcome.
“We're going to play against the first team. In my mind. ... I would think they're going to play their best team.”
It's a fine team, too, featuring Mexican national team forwards Rafael Marquez Lugo and Miguel Sabah, former national-teamer Jaime Lozano, Ecuadoran star Joao Rojas and center back Joel Huiqui, among others. The Monarcas, 1-1-0 in Group A, are rounding into top form and coming off a 1-0 triumph Saturday over mighty Cruz Azul in Mexico City.
“Having gotten a result this weekend makes it a little easier [for Morelia],” Arena said. “They're under a little pressure [at 3-3-1] in their league, and I think they would have been thrilled to come home with a point, and they got three. So that takes a little pressure off them. They can say this week this game is a little more important than [Friday's Primera Division encounter against Gallos Blancos de Queretaro].”
FC Dallas opened its CCL campaign Aug. 17 with a 1-0 win, on Marvin Chavez's goal, in Mexico City over Pumas. The reigning Primera champs left out most of their first-teamers. Seattle stepped up six days later for a 1-0 win, on a superb Alvaro Fernandez finish, at Monterrey.
“We don't talk about any of that stuff,” Arena said. “I think the players are aware of it. I think they go into these games believing they can get a result. I mean, that's half the battle. I would think for a number of years that teams in this league didn't even think they could get a result.”
There was good reason for that. From 1997, the first year MLS clubs were eligible for CONCACAF's club tournament, until 2008, Mexican foes won all nine meetings played on Mexican soil. They outscored the MLS teams, 29-3, and scorelines included 6-1, 6-0 and 5-0.
Javier Cortes started flush on the right flank, just above Morelia's box, with a thicket of defenders separating him from the net. No problem.
The 21-year-old forward's zig-zagging run took him past three of the Monarcas and finished with a tight-angle blast into the goal's ceiling to deliver the Mexican Primera Division's Clausura championship to Pumas UNAM.
Cortes' 77th-minute strike lifted the Mexico City club to a 2-1 triumph -- 3-2 on aggregate over two legs -- and to its seventh title and its fourth since 2004.
Former Chivas USA star Francisco Palencia also tallied for Pumas, converting a 15th-minute penalty kick after Morelia goalkeeper Federico Vilar took down Dante Lopez in the box.
Morelia, which rallied for a 1-1 draw in its home leg Thursday, answered with its own PK 10 minutes later. Jaime Lozano scored it after Miguel Sabah was fouled by goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios.
Cortes' goal, his team-best eighth of the Clausura, was sensational. He beat one defender as he got to the box, dribbled through another a few steps later, then got past Luis Noriega to set up his shot. Vilar had no chance.
The victory sends Pumas, which entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed after leading the Primera Division most of the winter/spring season, into the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. Morelia must go through a qualifying series with the runner-up from next weekend's Caribbean Championship final four.
Pumas was a semifinalist in the fall Apertura, falling to champion Monterrey. The Cats won a rematch in the first round of the Clausura playoffs, rallying from a 3-1 first-leg deficit, then disposed of Guadalajara to reach the final. They lost just three times in the second season, posting a 13-3-7 record, and were 21-11-12 for the full 2010-11 campaigns.
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.