Los Angeles Soccer: Marco Antonio Vidal
Pachuca's in, Toluca and Guadalajara are out, and Pumas UNAM scored a big victory to claim the final berth in the Mexican Primera Division's playoffs.
Pachuca, with three Americans, struck early to beat Necaxa, 2-1, on Friday night, then waited 24 hours -- through five games -- to celebrate, clinching a top-eight spot when Atlas rallied to tie UANL Tigres on Saturday night.
It was a wild final regular-season weekend in the Apertura, featuring four late comebacks -- two of them playing decisive roles in the playoff race -- and Guadalajara's finest moment of the campaign, which was far too little for one of Mexico's two most popular clubs.
A quick rundown:
WHO'S IN: Jaguares (6-4-7), Pachuca (7-6-4) and Pumas (7-6-4) won the three available berths, all finishing one point ahead of Tigres (6-5-6), which saw its playoff hopes die on two penalty kicks.
Jaguares clinched with a 1-1 draw at Gallos Blancos, with Jorge Rodriguez's 81st minute equalizer providing the Chiapas club the required goal. Queretaro had gone ahead just two minutes earlier on a tremendous Sergio Oreteman drive to the upper-left corner.
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.”
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.
The Tuzos, who gained entry to the annual seven-team Club World Cup by winning the CONCACAF Champions League title last spring, must beat Africa's champion and Copa Libertadores titlist Internacional to reach the Dec. 18 title game in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. They'll find out their first foe -- either the Democratic Republic of Congo's TP Mazembe or Tunisia's Esperance -- when the African Champions League wraps up Nov. 13.
Brazil's Internacional, which beat Guadalajara in the Copa Libertadores final in August, and UEFA Champions League winner Inter Milan are seeded into the semifinals. Internacional won the Club World Cup four years ago.
Pachuca has been unimpressive in the Mexican Primera Division's current Apertura tournament, falling further from playoff contention with a 3-2 loss Tuesday to visiting UANL Tigres that left its record 4-6-4 with three games to go in the regular season. The Tuzos have three American players: Los Angeles-born Herculez Gomez, a former forward with the Galaxy, and Texans Jose Francisco Torres and Marco Antonio Vidal. Gomez and Torres played for the U.S. at the World Cup in South Africa.