Los Angeles Soccer: Nicolas Olivera
It's taken just two weeks to turn things upside down in Mexico's Primera Division.
Atop the Clausura standings following wins lopsided (5-0 over Morelia) and tight (2-1 over Gallos Blancos) is Atlas, which won only three games en route to an 18th-place finish (among 18 clubs) in the fall Apertura.
At the bottom, in 18th: Apertura champion Monterrey.
Atlas is 2-0-0 after Alfredo Moreno, at the top of the box, redirected Edgar Pacheco's 82nd-minute blast Saturday to beat Gallos Blancos, 2-1.
"I think keeping our feet on the ground is something that has to work every day ...," Galindo told Mexican sports daily Esto. "These two games have been satisfying, but we must continue. There are many details to improve, and we can't rest."
Also 2-0-0 is San Luis, which routed Puebla, 3-0, behind two Wilmer Aguirre goals. Atlas plays at Necaxa on Friday, and San Luis is home Saturday against Guadalajara.
Monterrey, outclassed by San Luis in its opener (and missing manager Victor Manuel Vucetich, suspended three games after his ejection in that opener), was overrun by Estudiantes Tecos. Mauro Cejas scored twice and Ramon Morales set up two in Tecos' 3-2 victory. Sergio Santana scored both Monterrey goals, his first since Aug. 14.
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.