Los Angeles Soccer: Matias Vuoso
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.
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 fired its coach and won. Monterrey expressed confidence in its quality and lost. Guadalajara just drifts aimlessly along.
Three Mexican Primera Division clubs dealing with crisis in different ways, and two of them, at least, are expected to contend for the Clausura title, no matter their slow starts.
America, which dumped Manuel Lapuente after opening the “spring” season 0-2-1, won as Carlos Reinoso started his third stint as head coach with a 2-0 win over previously perfect Atlas as Matias Vuoso and Angel Reyna scored second-half goals.
It might have finished differently: Atlas could have pulled even moments after Vuoso's strike, but Hebert Alferez tripped over the ball facing a virtually open net from close-range. And Reyna's goal was the product of the worst possible clearance attempt, by Darvin Chavez.
“I think we're on the right track, and we deserved the win because we never gave up on it,” Reinoso told media. “I'm going to be very demanding, and America must be a team that always goes out to dictate play on any field and against any rival.”
Monterrey (1-3-0) is 17th overall -- only pointless Necaxa is worse -- after falling, 3-2, at Pumas UNAM, the Rayados' sixth loss in their past eight regular-season games. And that after dropping just one of the previous 31 en route to two league titles and a best regular-season record.
“We realize that victories are always urgent, especially with a team that is normally used to winning and to playing good football,” Monterrey assistant coach Carlos Barra told reporters. “We need to reach the level of previous tournaments.”
Both clubs have the talent to turn their seasons around. Guadalajara (0-1-3), which sank to 16th overall with a 1-0 defeat to crosstown rival Estudiantes Tecos, is one of two winless clubs (Necaxa's the other) and has shown no knack for winning games. They've finished ahead just twice in their past 16 matches, dating to early September.
The bad news: The Chapines are going to have to mature, and fast, to contend with those foes.
The Mexico City powerhouse played a first-choice lineup -- all but injured Rosinei -- in its next-to-last prep before the Mexican Primera Division kicks off its Clausura season the second weekend of January, and it looks ready to make two title runs: in the domestic championship and Copa Libertadores.
The three-pronged attack -- Vicente Sanchez, Matias Vuoso and Daniel Montenegro, with midfielders Miguel Layun and newcomer Nicolas Olivera plus right back Oscar Rojas in support -- deserved more than it produced, and veteran Pavel Pardo masterfully laid a foundation in midfield for the attackers. And goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, America's reigning superstar, handled almost everything the game Guatemalans threw at him.
America went ahead on Vuoso's 19th-minute penalty kick -- Jaime Vides clipped Sanchez after a superb ball into space from Olivera -- and asserted command on a game-altering, end-to-end sequence about 10 minutes before the end of the first half.
The Chapines' inexperienced lineup had stayed with America the first 35 minutes. Carlos Figueroa, one of just five starters with more than 15 caps, was alternately awful and awesome, and he was both at a crucial juncture.
Organizers promise that Wednesday's meeting between Club America and Guatemala's national team is the beginning of an annual series, with the Mexican giant taking on a different "international" team each winter -- and with a trophy at stake.
That aside, the 7 p.m. Home Depot Center clash (ESPN Deportes) is little more than your everyday preseason friendly. The Aguilas, semifinalists in the Mexican Primera Division's fall Apertura, are working toward their Clausura opener Jan. 9 against Pachuca. Guatemala is beginning preparations for the Jan. 14-23 Copa Centroamericana, which will send five teams (of seven competitors) to next summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"It's a very serious game," America coach Manuel Lapuente said Tuesday afternoon. "It's our second-to-last game of preseason, and we don't have a lot of time left. We really need this game, because we have to show what we've got for the [Clausura]."
Five things about Wednesday's "El Reto Aguila" encounter:
1. TWO HOME TEAMS?
Neither of these teams are strangers to Southern California, and both have significant followings here. America is, with Guadalajara, one of Mexico's two true giants, and they're making their third 2010 appearance in L.A. Many Guatemalans live in SoCal, and they're getting to see their team for the third time this year, too.
America played two games at HDC during last January's InterLiga event, draws with Estudiantes Tecos and Monterrey, and beat Cruz Azul on July 10 at the Rose Bowl. Guatemala played two Coliseum friendlies, beating El Salvador in March and losing to Honduras in October.
2. AMERICA'S STARS
America made few changes from a side that made a nice late-season run during the Apertura, adding midfielder Nicolas Olivera from Puebla and bringing back defender Rodrigo Iņigo from Gallos Blancos de Queretaro. The big stars: goalkeeper Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa, midfielder Pavel Pardo -- Ochoa is a Mexican national team standourt, Pardo a former El Tri star -- forwards Matias Vuoso, Vicente Sanchez and Daniel Montenegro, and defender Aquivaldo Mosquera.
The expected sides emerged from the Mexican Primera Division semifinals Sunday, and the two-leg title series will begin in Torreon on Thursday night. The second leg will be played next Sunday in Monterrey.
America rallied three times in the second half on goals by Vicente Sanchez, Matias Vuoso and Enrique Esqueda, but it wasn't nearly enough -- the Aguilas needed to win by two goals to reach the final. Carlos Darwin Quintero made the task much more difficult, firing Santos ahead in the second minute. he scored a second in the 61st, and Christian Benitez netted his 16th of the campaign in the 75th.
Second-seeded Monterrey, which beat Santos, 2-1, Oct. 23 in Torreon, would have advanced with another 0-0 draw against Pumas. But Humberto Suazo took advantage of a defensive miscue in the 88th minute, and Neri Cardozo doubled the advantage two minutes into stoppage.
Club America's title hopes might have disappeared on a piece of magic by Christian Benitez -- and black magic from referee Jaime Herrera.
The fourth-seeded Aguilas failed to get two penalty calls, then gave up a goal at the finish, absorbing a 2-1 defeat Thursday to visiting Santos Laguna in a semifinal first leg in Mexico's Primera Division playoffs.
Second-seeded Monterrey's defensive stance was rewarded with a 0-0 draw at Pumas UNAM in the other Mexico City encounter, and the Rayados will need no more than a tie in Sunday's home leg to advance to the championship series. Higher seeds move on if the aggregate score is even.
America will need a two-goal victory in Torreon after Benitez broke a tie in the 89th minute, beating three defenders and then firing home a cross-box shot, his league-best 15th goal of the campaign. Carlos Quintero gave No. 3 seed Santos a 10th-minute lead, and Angel Reyna pulled the Aguilas even in the 19th.
"The result serves us," Benitez told Televisa, the giant TV network that owns America. "Now we play at home. We have an advantage, and we must seize it."
That advantage was built largely on Herrera's inadequacies. He allowed play to continue after Felipe Baloy took down America forward Matias Vuoso in the Santos box, then allowed Fernando Arce to get away with hitting Vicente Sanchez in the face, also in the box.
Monterrey kept nine men (plus goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco) behind the ball for most of its match against No. 8 seed Pumas, which stunned top-seeded Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals. Neri Cardozo nearly gave the Rayados a lead in the 21st minute, but his shot struck the left post.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: Club Tijuana and Irapuato moved closer to the title showdown in Mexico's second-tier division.
The Xoloitzcuintles notched their 11th shutout in 18 games in a scoreless draw at Albinegros de Orizaba, hardly a surprising result. Tijuana has surrendered just seven goals during the Apertura, and Albinegros has posted five successive clean sheets, extending its shutout streak to 535 minutes.
Tijuana, which needs only a draw in Sunday afternoon's second leg at Estadio Caliente, has a decided advantage at home. The Xolos are 7-0-2 in T.J., conceding just twice.
Irapuato dominated Veracruz in its home leg, using goals by Ariel Gonzalez in the sixth minute and Jose Luis Lopez in the 60th for a 2-0 victory. Cuauhtemoc Blanco nearly made it 3-0, but his 43rd-minute header from Arturo Alvarado's cross crashed off the crossbar.
- PRIMERA DIVISION
SEMIFINALS, FIRST LEG
America 1 (A. Reyna 19), Santos Laguna 2 (Quintero 10, C. Benitez 89)
Pumas UNAM 0, Monterrey 0
America at Santos Laguna, 4 p.m.
Pumas UNAM at Monterrey, 6 p.m.
- LIGA DE ASCENSO
SEMIFINALS, FIRST LEG
Albinegros de Orizaba 0, Club Tijuana 0
Irapuato 2 (A. Gonzalez 6, J. Lopez 60), Veracruz 0
Albinegros de Orizaba at Club Tijuana, 1 p.m.
Irapuato at Veracruz, 5 p.m.
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.
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 Muņoz 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.”