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.
Pachuca, which has three Yanks -- former Galaxy star Herculez Gomez and Texans Jose Francisco Torres and Marco Antonio Vidal -- on its roster, took a two-goal lead after 15 minutes Friday, with Damian Manso setting up a Leobardo Lopez header in the seventh minute, then finding the net himself eight minutes later. The Tuzos held on for the victory with help from three late Necaxa red cards.
Pumas nailed down its berth with a 1-0 victory over Mexico City rival Club America at Estadio Azteca, with Dario Veron's 11th-minute strike making the difference.
WHO'S OUT: Guadalajara (4-3-10) was out after Pachuca's win, and Morelia was eliminated when last-place Atlas -- on Alfredo Moreno PKs in the 39th and 63rd minutes -- rallied for a 2-2 draw with Tigres.
It was a devastating result for Jonathan Bornstein's future club, from suburban Monterrey, which had stormed ahead on goals by Lucas Lobos and Itamar Batista in the first half-hour.
A victory would have sent Tigres to the Liguilla, but they remained alive when Toluca (5-5-7) -- champion of last spring's Clausura -- managed only a 1-1 draw with Atlante early Sunday afternoon. Had Pumas lost or tied, Tigres would have been playoff-bound.
AT THE TOP: Overall winner Cruz Azul (12-2-3) completed a glorious campaign by beating San Luis on Horacio Cervantes' 88th-minute strike -- a spectacular blast to the upper-left corner. Santos Laguna (9-5-3) held off America for the third seed, beating Estudiantes Tecos on Daniel Ludueña's early goal and surviving a harsh red card to Oribe Peralta in the 20th minute.
Monterrey (9-3-5) finished second despite a controversial loss to Guadalajara, and America (7-4-6) held onto the fourth spot (and won Group 2) by one point over San Luis.
THE MATCHUPS: Quarterfinal first legs are Wednesday and Thursday, and second legs are Saturday and Sunday. The full schedule is below, but here are the matchups (with higher seed listed first):
Cruz Azul vs. Pumas UNAM
Monterrey vs. Pachuca
Santos vs. Jaguares
America vs. San Luis
Cruz Azul, clearly, is the team to beat. La Maquina had the Apertura's best attack (33 goals in 17 games, with Christian Gimenez netting a team-best eight) and the top defense, too (just 13 goals allowed, behind center backs Fausto Pinto and Horacio Cervantes, with veteran Gerardo Torrado in front of them).
Watch out for Monterrey, which won last year's Apertura and will look to bounce back from back-to-back losses to close the regular season, and America, which was playing its best soccer at the end of the campaign.
ETC: Monterrey was steamed after Luis Perez, Severo Meza and goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco were red-carded against Guadalajara, which rallied from a three-goal deficit for a 3-2 victory. Marco Fabian de la Mora scored the last two goals for Chivas, knocking in the winner during stoppage as he was leveled by Orozco. … The best game of the final weekend was a meaningless 3-3 draw between Morelia and Puebla, which twice rallied from deficits, getting the final equalizer from Andres Olivera in the 86th minute. Miguel Sabah tallied twice in the second half to give Morelia a 3-2 advantage.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: The playoffs are set with only one minor change among the top seven -- skidding Veracruz exchanged spots with Lobos BUAP, dropping from fourth to fifth following a 2-0 loss at top side Club Tijuana.
Albinegros de Orizaba (7-6-4) snatched the final spot when Jared Borgetti's Leon failed to extend its four-game winning streak. Denis Caniza, who has played in four World Cups for Paraguay, scored just before halftime for the Esmeraldas (7-6-4), but they couldn't get a second and were held to a 1-1 draw by Cuauhtemoc Blanco's Irapuato (8-6-3), which had claimed its berth when Albinegros and Lobos (8-6-3) finished a scoreless draw.
Tijuana (11-1-5) had already clinched first place and a bye to the semifinals, and its triumph over Veracruz (7-4-6) -- on goals by Raul Enriquez and Oscar Otreras -- extended its winning margin over Indios de Ciudad Juarez (8-4-5) to nine points. Indios lost to Leones Negros but finished second when Alacranes de Durango (8-5-4) closed with a 2-0 loss to lowly Correcaminos.
Semifinal matchups: Indios vs. Albinegros, Alacranes vs. Irapuato, and Lobos vs. Veracruz. …
Former Chivas USA forward Roberto Nurse's ninth goal gave Cruz Azul Hidalgo a 2-1 win at Merida. … Hector Gimenez's eighth lifted Guerreros past La Piedad by the same score. … Veracruz, which was second in the overall standings just 12 days ago, heads into the playoffs with three straight losses -- the last two by shutout -- and a four-game winless streak.
AMERICANS IN ACTION: Pachuca's resurgence has coincided with Torres' return to the lineup; he played the full 90, and Vidal came on in the second half of the victory over Necaxa. … Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce finished off his breakthrough campaign with Guadalajara, making his 16th start at left back for the league's fourth-best defensive team. … Sonny Guadarrama was back in Atlante's lineup, and Riverside's Sammy Ochoa came on late in Estudiantes Tecos' defeat. … San Diego's Joe Corona was a second-half substitute for Tijuana.
Past week's games (home teams listed first)
Necaxa 1 (D. Cervantes 33), Pachuca 2 (L. Lopez 7, Manso 15)
Cruz Azul 1 (H. Cervantes 88), San Luis 0
Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 1 (Orteman 79), Jaguares de Chiapas 1 (J. Rodriguez 81)
Monterrey 2 (de Nigris 11, Ayovi 33), Guadalajara 3 (Arellano 55, de la Mora 66, 92+)
Santos Laguna 1 (Ludueña 10), Estudiantes Tecos 0
Atlass 2 (A. Moreno pen. 39, pen. 63), UANL Tigres 2 (L. Lobos 15, I. Batista 30)
Morelia 3 (Droguett 2, Sabah 48, 79), Puebla 3 (Pereyra 8, A. Ortiz 31, A. Olivera 86)
Toluca 1 (A. Rios 68), Atlante 1 (Amione 46)
Group 1: x-Monterrey 32 points, x-Santos 30, UANL Tigres 24, Guadalajara 22, Necaxa 16, Estudiantes Tecos 15
Group 2: x-America 27 points, x-San Luis 26, x-Pachuca 25, Toluca 22, Atlante 16, Atlas 13
Group 3: x-Cruz Azul 39 points, x-Jaguares 25, x-Pumas UNAM 25, Morelia 21, Puebla 19, Gallos Blancos 19
Overall (top 8, playoff qualifiers): 1. Cruz Azul 39 (+20 goal difference), 2. Monterrey 32 (+9), 3. Santos 30 (+9), 4. America 27 (+8), 5. San Luis 26 (+2), 6. Jaguares 25 (+7), 7. Pachuca 25 (-1), 8. Pumas UNAM 25 (-1).
Relegation percentage: 1. Necaxa (17 games/16 points) 0.9412; 2. Gallos Blancos (51/58) 1.1373; 3. Atlas (85/98) 1.1529; 4. Atlante (85/99) 1.1647; 5. Jaguares (85/102) 1.2000
x -- clinched playoff berth
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Quarterfinals, first leg
America at San Luis, 5 p.m.
Cruz Azul at Pumas UNAM, 7 p.m.
Monterrey at Pachuca, 4 p.m.
Santos Laguna at Jaguares de Chiapas, 6 p.m.
Quarterfinals, second leg
Pumas UNAM at Cruz Azul, 3 p.m.
San Luis at America, 5 p.m.
Pachuca at Monterrey, 2 p.m.
Jaguares de Chiapas at Santos Laguna, 4 p.m.
1. Christian Benitez (Santos) 14
2. Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 10
3. Itamar Batista (UANL Tigres) 9
Johan Fano (Atlante) 9
5. Sergio Blanco (Gallos Blancos) 8
Dario Cvitanich (Pachuca) 8
Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul) 8
Gabriel Pereyra (Pubela) 8
Matias Vuoso (America) 8
10. Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 7
Alfredo Moreno (Atlas) 7
Miguel Sabah (Morelia) 7
13. Edgar Benitez (Pachuca) 6
Marco Fabian de la Mora (Guadalajara) 6
Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey) 6
Dante Lopez (Pumas UNAM) 6
Carlos Ochoa (Jaguares) 6
Javier Orozco (Cruz Azul) 6
Jorge Rodriguez (Jaguares) 6
20. Michael Arroyo (San Luis) 5
Hector Mancilla (Toluca) 5
Daniel Marquez (America) 5
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 5
24. Damian Alvarez (UANL Tigres) 4
Martin Bravo (Pumas UNAM) 4
Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 4
Danilinho (Jaguares) 4
Dario Gandin (Necaxa) 4
Lucas Lobos (UANL Tigres) 4
Daniel Montenegro (America) 4
LIGA DE ASCENSO
Past week's results (home teams listed first)
Altamira 2 (Zatarain 17, 44), Atlante Neza 1 (E. Borboa 76)
U de G Leones Negros 3 (C. Lopez 43, M. Zepeda 58, Zazueta 67), Indios de Ciudad Juarez 1 (de la Barrera 11)
Guerreros FC 2 (Palafox 19, H. Gimenez 62), La Piedad 1 (Iniquez 54)
Albinegros de Orizaba 0, Lobos BUAP 0
Alacranes de Durango 0, UAT Correcaminos 2 (J. Rivera 58, R. Ramirez 86)
Merida FC 1 (A. Herrera 44), Cruz Azul Hidalgo 2 (og Sansores 14, Nurse 80)
Dorados de Sinaloa 2 (J. Castro 3, Lucas Silva 79), Pumas Morelos 0
Leon 1 (Caniza 44), Irapuato 1 (G. Gomez 8 )
Club Tijuana 2 (Enriquez 32, Otreras 67), Veracruz 0
Standings: 1. xy-Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente 38 points, 2. Indios de Ciudad Juarez 29, 3. x-Alacranes de Durango 28, 4. x-Lobos BUAP 27, 5. x-Veracruz 27, 6. x-Irapuato 27, 7. x-Albinegros de Orizaba 25, 8. Leon 25, 9. Altamira 24, 10. Guerreros FC 24, 11. Dorados de Sinaloa 23, 12. Cruz Azul Hidalgo 22, 13. Pumas Morelis 20, 14. U de G Leones Negros 19, 15. La Piedad 18, 16. UAT Correcaminos 15, 17. Merida FC 13, 18. Atlante Neza 9
y -- clinched semifinal berth; x -- clinched playoff berth
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Quarterfinals, first leg
Indios de Ciudad Juarez at Albinegros de Orizaba, 5 p.m.
Alacranes de Durango at Irapuato, 6:45 p.m.
Lobos BUAP at Vercruz, 5 p.m.
Quarterfinals, second leg
Irapuato at Alacranes de Durango, 5 p.m.
Albinegros de Orizaba at Indios de Ciudad Juarez, 5 p.m.
Veracruz at Lobos BUAP, 3 p.m.
1. Eder Pacheco (Alacranes) 13
2. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 10
3. Eduardo Lillingston (Indios) 9
Juan Manuel Cavallo (Albinegros) 9
Roberto Nurse (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 9
Miguel Zepeda (Leones Negros) 9
7. Felipe Flores (Dorados) 8
Hector Gimenez (Guerreros) 8
Rafael Murguia (La Piedad) 8
10. Jared Borgetti (Leon) 7
Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 7
Nelson Sebastian Maz (Veracruz) 7
13. Josue Castillejos (Altamira) 5
Raul Enriquez (Club Tijuana) 5
Diego Esqueda (Leones Negros) 5
Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 5
Salvador Medina (Pumas Morelos) 5
Blas Perez (Leon) 5
Iñigo Rey (Alacranes) 5
20. Pablo Bonells (Leon) 4
Martin Calderon (Dorados) 4
Agustin Herrera (Merida FC) 4
Francisco Mendoza (Dorados) 4
Luis Orozco (Club Tijuana) 4
Sergio Rizo (La Piedad) 4
Pablo Gabriel Torres (Atlante Neza) 4