Los Angeles Soccer: Mauro Gerk
They paled next to those pluses disguised as torment Wednesday night, when an overly physical encounter with Club Tijuana turned on a slew of yellow cards and then a red.
By the time it was over, the Xolos -- just two points off the lead in Mexico's top division -- were celebrating a 5-2 triumph at the University of San Diego's Torero Stadium in a friendly that was not very friendly at all.
Lahoud finished a superb ball from Smith to give Chivas USA a first-half advantage, but newcomer Miller Bolaņos was sent off after elbowing Bruno Piceno five minutes into the second half, and that was that.
Raul Enriquez evened things three minutes later, Mauro Gerk scored a go-ahead goal that didn't appear to cross the line in the 65th minute, and Tijuana added goals on their final three shots of the half to pull away in the second San Diego Clasico, played before 4,238 fans garbed mostly in red and black Xolos shirts.
It was an often ugly encounter, with 36 fouls, seven yellow cards -- five of the them to Chivas in the first half -- and the red to Bolaņos, which was a blessing, sort of, in disguise.
“There's no such thing as a friendly game ...,” Chivas coach Robin Fraser said afterward. “It's part of it, though, and it's part of the experience, and it's part of getting ready for the competition of MLS. So it's good that we got a game like this.
“It's a wakeup call, certainly from the mentality of preseason games. For us, it's good to be in that sort of environment.”
The Goats had a very fine first half, with LaBrocca and Oswaldo Minda providing a foundation behind Bolaņos in midfield and solid backline play, especially by Valencia, who cleaned up a Riley miscue that gave Tijuana a chance and stepping in to block a shot that might have done damage.
Smith and Lahoud, who have been forces on the flanks all preseason, hooked up in the 36th minute. Smith stripped Alejandro Molina -- one of three former first-choice players in the Xolos' fully reserve lineup -- then pushed the ball past and leapt over him as he slid in afterward. That sent the Englishman into space on the right, and Lahoud was at the far post to deposit the cross.
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.
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.
An acrobatic own goal by Duilio Davino has put Monterrey in a hole midway through its Mexican Primera Division championship home-and-home with Santos Laguna.
Davino, who was part of Mexico's 1998 World Cup team, lunged at Jose Maria Cardenas' cross in the 86th minute Thursday night, knocking the ball off the right post and into his net, giving Santos a 3-2 triumph in an absorbing first leg in the Apertura final.
Second-seeded Monterrey, which will be home for Sunday's title-decider, twice rallied from deficits and appeared in solid shape heading into the final five minutes of a 2-2 draw in Torreon. Davino's miscue -- designed to keep Cardenas' cross from reaching Christian Benitez -- means the Rayados must win by a goal to force overtime or two goals to claim a second successive Apertura crown.
Ivan Estrada was pivotal for third-seeded Santos, providing a 23rd-minute lead, then crossing for a Carlos Darwin Quintero header to put the Guerreros ahead, 2-1, just before halftime. Quintero has scored in each of the past three games.
Chilean World Cup standout Humberto Suazo's 13th goal of the campaign, from Aldo de Nigris' touch, pulled Monterrey even in the 38th minute, and Neri Cardozo made it 2-2 in the 55th after de Nigris stripped a defender just outside Santos' box.
TIJUANA ON THE VERGE: Mauro Gerk and Javier Gandolfi scored goals three minutes apart, and Club Tijuana is 90 minutes from the Liga de Ascenso's Apertura title following a 2-0 win at Veracruz.
Jaime Lopez/Getty Images
Vicente Sanchez, left, of America vies for the ball with Jonny Magallon of Chivas during Sunday's game.
The rule of thumb is you play to win at home and to tie on the road, but Sunday’s 0-0 draw at America in the 206th edition of Mexico’s “Super Clasico” wasn’t enough for Guadalajara, which faces a difficult path to get into the Primera Division’s Apertura playoffs.
Chivas (3-3-7) are fourth in Group 1 and 11th overall, and they’re only two points behind eighth-place America (4-3-6), which held onto its spot in the playoff zone despite its third successive draw. But the Goats finish with a brutal schedule, with games in this week’s “doble jornada” against fifth-place (and reigning champion) Toluca and at third-place Santos Laguna, followed by showdowns with No. 1 Cruz Azul on Nov. 6 and at No. 2 Monterrey on Nov. 13.
Six clubs -- Pumas UNAM, Morelia, Pachuca, Puebla, Gallos Blancos in addition to Guadalajara -- are within three points of a top-eight slot, and only Cruz Azul and Monterrey are assured of playoff berths, realistically if not mathematically.
“Now we depend on what other teams do, and that is a very complicated position,” Jose Luis Real, Guadalajara’s head coach, told the media following Sunday’s draw. “But we can’t surrender -- we are going to try to qualify. As long as we are alive, we will fight for the postseason.”
Chivas have won just once in its last eight games and have picked up only seven of 12 points against the division’s three worst clubs: They lost at Atlante in August, beat crosstown rival Estudiantes Tecos in early September, managed only a 2-2 draw with Atlas, their other Guadalajara rival, the first weekend in October, and beat Necaxa last week.
In games against eight of the nine clubs battling for the final four postseason berths -- Toluca is the ninth -- the Goats are 0-2-6, 0-2-2 at home.