Los Angeles Soccer: Miguel Angel Ponce
Mexico heads to the Olympics as CONCACAF's under-23 champion. Honduras goes to London with two players suspended.
That's the upshot from Monday's title game in the region's Olympic qualifying tournament, in which El Tri prevailed, 2-1, on Miguel Angel Ponce's volley late in overtime in Kansas City, Kan.
Marco Fabian de la Mora also scored for Mexico, which rallied from a deficit after Romell Quioto's header gave the Hondurans a 48th-minute lead.
Both sides qualified for the Olympics with semifinal victories Saturday.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
Mexico fell behind early in the second half, then took over, sending attacking wave after wave at the Honduran defense to net a 75th-minute equalizer and score the winner 26 minutes into overtime.
Quioto gave the Catrachos the advantage by nodding home Alexander Lopez's cross, but they were under heavy pressure the rest of the way. Marco Fabian tied the score with a brilliant blast from 28 yards that bent just inside the right post -- his fifth goal of the tournament -- and Mexico failed to win in regulation when the star forward shot wide with an open shot inside the box in the 83rd minute and his Guadalajara teammate Erick Torres put a looping header off the crossbar in the 86th.
Honduras goalkeeper Jose Mendoza was heroic on several occasions. He required medical attention after appearing to hurt his knee and signaled at least twice to bee substituted off.
Ponce, a Sacramento-born midfielder for Guadalajara, got open at the left post to finish Israel Jimenez's cross from the left flank in the 116th minute. The seven-pass sequence occurred when Mexico failed to return the ball to Honduras, which had knocked it out of bounds so a player could receive medical treatment.
Gerson Rodas scored twice in overtime as Honduras overcame Central American rival El Salvador, 3-2, in the first game of a doubleheader at Livestrong Sporting Park. Mexico claimed its berth at this summer's London Games with a 3-1 victory over Canada.
Mexico is making its 10th men's soccer appearance at the Olympics but just its second in the last four Olympiads. Honduras has qualified for the third time since 2000.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
Mexico's class was apparent in a deserved victory over the Canadians, with Guadalajara's Marco Fabian de la Mora scoring his fourth goal of the tournament, UANL Tigres' Alan Pulido netting his fifth and Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce, also from Guadalajara, adding a second-half insurance strike.
CARSON -- Mexico's plan to qualify for the London Olympics is simple: beat everybody. That would certainly do it, and if El Tri's path grew more strenuous with Canada's upset of the U.S., well, no problem.
That was Luis Fernando Tena's take after Mexico overwhelmed Honduras, 3-0, Sunday afternoon at Home Depot Center, becoming the first of the region's under-23 national teams to clinch a final-four berth in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
“We're well aware this will mean nothing if we don't win [in the semifinals in Kansas City, Kan.] on Saturday the 31st,” said Tena, Mexico's head coach. “We haven't won anything. We have advanced, and whomever we play, we'll always try to win, of course.”
El Tri, which didn't get out of the group stage in a grand failure four years ago, can't claim Group B's top spot until Tuesday's first-stage finale against Panama, but even an unexpected tumble probably wouldn't knock them out of first place.
This is where Mexico was expected to be, but Canada's 2-0 victory Friday night in Nashville, Tenn., twisted everything: The U.S., with a win Monday over El Salvador, probably would finish second in Group A. The Americans and Mexicans were both expected to make it to London; now they'll probably face off for one of CONCACAF's two berths.
“Yeah, I know -- everybody is asking the same question,” said Guadalajara's Miguel Angel Ponce, who was born in Sacramento. “It really doesn't matter if it's USA or no. We have to keep showing what we've done, and we can beat them.”
The U.S. impressively won a Feb. 29 friendly against the Mexicans in Frisco, Texas, but they followed Thursday's 6-0 rout of Cuba with a poor performance at both ends against the Canadians and have not looked nearly as sharp nor as dangerous as has Mexico. El Tri has more top-flight experience and, with New York Red Bulls star Juan Agudelo out -- he'll undergo surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus -- a more dynamic attack.
Beating Canada, which will win Group A with a victory Monday over the winless, goalless, hapless Cubans, is a far simpler task, but Mexico wasn't about to maneuver for the better matchup.
CARSON -- Honduras needed a half to find its game. Mexico was on the accelerator from the start. Both posted impressive victories Friday night in CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers at Home Depot Center to set up a showdown Sunday afternoon, likely for the Group B title.
The Hondurans' under-23 national team used a goal early in the second half to take command and another near the finish to nail down a 3-1 triumph over Panama in the opener. Marco Fabian de la Mora had a hat trick and played a crucial role on another strike as Mexico buried Trinidad & Tobago, 7-1, in the nightcap.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
- WHAT HAPPENED?
How good is Mexico? It bettered United States' six-goal start in the region's qualifying tournament for this summer's London Olympics, and it could have been far, far worse.
Mexico spent the entire match in and around the Soca Warriors' box, scored three brilliant goals and might have had another half-dozen or more if not for the efforts of T&T goalkeeper Andre Marchan and center back Daneil Cyrus.
Marco Fabian, the biggest name on El Tri's roster, and Sacramento-born winger Miguel Angel Ponce spearheaded a vibrant attack that expertly and repeatedly maneuvered through T&T's defense, hammering 35 shots. With better fortune, Mexico might have scored 15.
Marco Fabian enabled Alan Pulido's opener by getting in Marchan's path for a flicked-on corner kick, then doubled the advantage with a powerful header from Guadalajara teammate Ponce's superb cross from the left wing.
El Tri added five in the second half, the best Marco Fabian's precise finish from the top of the box in the 69th minute and Israel Jimenez's 30-yard free kick in the 74th. They padded their lead with three goals from the 85th minute.
The opener wasn't nearly as entertaining, but the match was far more important, likely determining the side that will advance to the semifinals along with Mexico. The Hondurans were worthy winners, taking charge once they began stringing passes after halftime.
CARSON -- The rosters for CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament are finally out, and just in time: Group A, which includes the United States, kicks off this afternoon in Nashville, Tenn.
We're concerned more with Group B in these parts. Mexico, with a dynamic side starring rising Guadalajara stars Erick Torres and Marco Fabian de la Mora, is the marquee team at Home Depot Center, where the first of three under-23 doubleheaders is slated for Friday night.
Mexico's roster is filled with Primera Division talent: 14 of the 22 players on El Tri's roster are regular starters in the country's top league, and several -- Marco Fabian, Toluca midfielder Nestor Calderon, Pumas UNAM midfielder Javier Cortes, Monterrey defender Darvin Chavez and UANL Tigres defender Israel Jimenez -- are downright veterans. A dozen have seen time with Mexico's full national team, and a half-dozen played for Mexico's U-20 team at last year's World Cup.
Calderon, who turned 23 last month, has been a first-choice player for Toluca since 2008 and has scored 22 goals in 133 Primera Division games. Marco Fabian netted 17 goals in last two tournaments and has 27 in 123 games for Guadalajara.
One Amercan-born player on the roster, too: Guadalajara's Miguel Angel Ponce, a Sacramento-born, Tijuana-raised left back who played in San Ysidro during his development.
Mexico is looking to qualify as simply as possible after its stunning failure to advance from group play in the Beijing qualifiers four years ago.
The top two teams advance to this summer's London Games, and the U.S. -- which has 14 MLS players, five from Europe and Club Tijuana's Joe Corona -- and Mexico are expected to fill the slots.
Honduras, which includes D.C. United's Andy Najar, the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year, figures to test Mexico in Group B. The teams meet in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader. Panama, also in Group B, features four players from the Gold Cup semifinalists last summer.
El Salvador, in Group A, includes Panorama City's Richard Menjivar (Monroe HS), a senior last fall at Cal State Bakersfield. He played for the U.S. under-18 national team in 2008.
Here are the rosters for the Group B teams:
Marco Fabian de la Mora's hat trick and another pair from Erick Torres -- his first two of the Apertura -- sparked Chivas' 5-2 rout of Zapopan rival Estudiantes Tecos, the Goats' first win in six games and their first under new coach Fernando Quirarte's guidance.
America ended a seven-game winless streak with a 3-0 romp at Monterrey, the Aguilas' first win since Fernando Tena took charge last month.
Guadalajara, which had scored five goals in its previous 7½ games, vaulted to third in the standings, just one point off the lead. America is still 16th but sits just three points from the playoff zone.
The Clasico, contested since 1943, is set for Sunday afternoon at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. America leads the all-time series, 73-69-63, but Chivas has won five of the last seven and has the better record in Mexican league play: 51-48-43.
Northern Mexico's biggest rivalry -- the Clasico Regiomontano, between crosstown rivals Monterrey and UANL Tigres -- also is this week, on Saturday at Tigres' Estadio Universitario.
- THE TOP 3
Former Galaxy standout Herculez Gomez has scored in four straight appearances and has six goals in just 577 minutes of action this season for Estudiantes Tecos.
He netted another in the Owls' 5-2 loss Saturday to Guadalajara and would have a dozen, scoring at this rate, if he were a full-time player.
The club from suburban Monterrey is back atop the Apertura after crushing previous leader Pumas UNAM on the weekend, scoring four first-half goals en route to a 4-1 decision.
Tigres (5-1-6) is even on points with Cruz Azul (6-3-3), which was denied two should-be penalty kicks before Javier Orozco netted two second-half goals in a 2-0 win over Puebla.
Jaguares (5-3-4), which was ahead two weeks ago, fell from second to sixth with a 1-0 loss at Pachuca (6-4-2), which climbed to fourth, just one point off the lead, after its third win (with a tie) in four games since the 5-0 disaster Sept. 10 at Tigres.
Santos (6-3-2), still with a game in hand over everybody except Morelia, and Pumas (6-4-2) also are two points back.
The biggest surge forward this week was made by Monterrey (5-5-2), which won in league for the first time since August -- early goals from Neri Cardozo and Dario Carreño starting the Rayados toward a 3-2 victory at Estudiantes Tecos -- to jump from 13th to eighth, into the playoff zone.
- THE TOP 3
Local hero Jonathan Bornstein's time in his mother's native land isn't going as planned. He's an afterthought at Tigres -- and given the club's success, who can say Ferretti is wrong -- with not one minute of league time since the Apertura began in July.
Bornstein (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS and UCLA), the former Chivas USA captain, has made Tigres' 18-player game roster just once, at the end of August, and has seen action only in three games with the club's under-20 side.
“It's definitely frustrating,” he told Major League Soccer's website. “I keep plugging away in training and doing the work, and, hopefully, when the times comes, I'll get the opportunity.”
Four of nine games in the 10th “jornada” in the fall Apertura finished at 1-1, including meetings between first-place Jaguares and fourth-place UANL Tigres and between Cruz Azul and Guadalajara, who sit in second and third.
Surprising Jaguares (5-2-3) rallied after conceding a late goal to Lucas Lobos, pulling even with Tigres (4-1-5) on Jorge Rodriguez's 89th-minute strike. Omar Arellano tallied in the first half for Guadalajara (5-2-3) and Edixon Perea in the second for Cruz Azul (5-2-3).
Fifth-place Pumas UNAM (5-3-2), the spring Clausura winner, won at Estudiantes Tecos to pull more or less even with the teams above it. The top three have 18 points, Tigres and Pumas 17, and Atlante sits just two points further behind after its fourth successive one-goal victory.
Another four teams have 14, and three more have 13. Sixteen of 18 clubs are firmly in the battle for eight playoff berths.
It's the makings for an incendiary finish.
- THE TOP 3
Monterrey has won the last two Apertura titles and last spring captured its first CONCACAF Champions League crown. The Rayados aren't playing like champions now.
They're 1-4-1 in league play since early August, and a 2-1 loss Saturday to Gallos Blancos in Queretaro dropped them from sixth to 11th in the table. The Champions League campaign also has been a trudge, with shutout losses at home against the Seattle Sounders and at Comunicaciones in Guatemala threatening to keep them from next year's quarterfinals and beyond.
The most important moments were at the end for three Mexican Primera Division teams over the weekend. Stoppage-time strikes delivered a huge win for Morelia and gave Club Tijuana and Monterrey a share of the points in their matches.
Morelia (3-3-1), which still has a game in hand over most of the field stemming from the gunshots-halted clash last month at Santos Laguna, vaulted from 15th to 10th with a stunning 1-0 decision at Cruz Azul. Joao Rojas scored the 92nd-minute decider from Aldo Ramirez's penetrating feed.
Tijuana (1-4-3), which has been hamstrung by bad luck more so than bad form, was set to go down at Toluca after conceding another questionable penalty kick, but Jose Sand headed home Richard Ruiz's cross in the 92nd to provide a 1-1 draw.
Monterrey's push for a point was more dramatic. The Rayados (4-3-1), down to 10 men after Jesus Zavala's 21st-minute red card surrendered a two-goal advantage against Puebla as former Chivas USA forward Isaac Romo tallied twice in the second half. They were redeemed by a controversial penalty-kick call, and Luis Perez slotted home from the spot in the 94th for a 3-3 tie.
- THE TOP 3
1. TALE OF TWO ROUTS
UANL Tigres was the top team in the spring Clausura, winning the regular-season title before an upset loss in the first round of the playoffs. Pumas UNAM was crowned champion. They were on different sides of blowouts that appear to confirm their destinies this fall.
Baja futbol fans enjoyed a historic couple of hours Saturday night at Estadio Caliente: The debut of top-flight soccer in Mexico's forgotten metropolis.
Tijuana, the country's third-largest city (with 1.65 million residents, in the 2010 census), has resided outside Mexico's sporting consciousness, all because it has lacked a Primera Division soccer team -- or the deep pockets willing to spend what's necessary to play with the big boys.
Enter Jorge Hank, the controversial former Tijuana mayor and self-proclaimed billionaire, who in 2007 formed Club Tijuana, which became more than successor to a lengthy line of lower-division failures. The goal, professed from the start, was to play in the top league, and it happened Saturday night, when the newly promotos Xoloitzcuintles debuted in an Apertura opener against Morelia, the runner-up in last spring's Clausura tournament.
A full, festive crowd at Caliente, a short drive south of the border, watched their heroes go down, 2-1, on a late, questionable penalty kick.
San Diego's Joe Corona scored the Xolos' goal with a rebound, and good thing. Of three attackers near the ricocheting ball, Corona was the only one clearly onside.
Joao Rojas drew the penalty kick in the 81st minute, clipped from behind by Tijuana backline leader Javier Gandolfi -- or so it looked. Replays indicated Gandolfi expertly twisted around Rojas and poked the ball away before there was contact.
Miguel Sabah was precise from the spot, and the Monarcas spoiled the party, but the Xolos' supporters saw something they hadn't in more than a year: a home defeat.
- THE TOP 3
1. PA-CHOKE-APachuca is the popular pick to zoom back into the title-game picture and steal the prize, product of nice makeover that has Tuzos fans thinking about an 11th major trophy (a sixth league title, to go with five CONCACAF Champions League and a Copa Sudamericana triumph) since 1999.
Mexico's Primera Division kicks off the first of its twin 2011-12 seasons Friday night, and fans in this region have a new dog to cheer for. Literally.
The Xoloitzcuintles of Club Tijuana, who take their name and mascot from semi-mythical Aztec hounds that, more or less, have descended into Mexican short-hairs, bring the best league south of the border right to the border -- and soon, perhaps, into San Diego.
The Xolos were the best team in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso last season and won promotion to the Primera in May, and Mexico's third-largest city isn't the only winner. The opportunity for soccer fans in Southern California to see the region's best league -- and storied clubs such as America, Guadalajara and reigning champion Pumas UNAM, in real competition -- is unprecedented, although tickets will be scarce.
Tijuana's Apertura opener Saturday night against Morelia, another club with a large So Cal following, is sold out. There are plans, not the least formalized, to bring games against Guadalajara and America -- the two biggest clubs in Mexico -- to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, but that appears at least a year off, provided the Xolos survive their first year in the Primera. We've seen so many times the promoted club relegated after just one Apertura/Clausura cycle, including Necaxa last season.
There are several Southern Californians in the league, too, including Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein (the former Chivas USA captain) at UANL Tigres, L.A.-born Herculez Gomez (the former Galaxy star) at Estudiantes Tecos, Orange's Michael Orozco Fiscal at San Luis, Calexico's Isaac Acuña at America and rising Tijuana winger Joe Corona, from National City.
A newcomer to the league is fading U.S. national-teamer DaMarcus Beasley, at Puebla.
The big change this year: No divisions. The two-season approach, with the fall Apertura and spring Clausura, remain, but now a single table will be used, with the top eight teams advancing to the postseason.
As always, every game, every team, will be televised in the L.A. area by Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46), Telemundo (KVEA/Channel 52), Azteca America (KAZA/Channel 54), Galavision and, not quite as often, on ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes. Select Liga de Ascenso games, usually involving Veracruz, also will be aired.
Here's a quick look at the Primera Division as the Apertura kicks off:
- 7 BETS TO WIN THE APERTURA
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.
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.
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.