Los Angeles Soccer: San Luis
Santos Laguna and Monterrey, who met in last year's Apertura final in Mexico's Primera Division, are smoking foes. Rising Guadalajara's approach is more measured. And reigning champ Pumas UNAM is defying expectations.
They're the four sides that have won in each of the first two weekends of the current Apertura, and three of them faces a difficult slate in this week's “doble-jornada.”
Santos, atop the standings with a plus-6 goal difference -- Atlante last weekend was the Guerreros' second three-goal victim -- have it easier, taking on promoted Club Tijuana, which continues to seek its first Primera victory.
Pumas, which dismantled its side after winning the Clausura in May, has shut out both of its opponents, San Luis and Morelia. Things get much tougher this week: Monterrey on Wednesday in Mexico City and Saturday at Chivas.
- THE TOP 3
1. XOLOS XLIP AGAIN: Tijuana so dominated the Liga de Ascenso most of last season, and it added real quality with the jump to the Primera Division, so perhaps expectations for the Xoloitzcuintles' first campaign in the top division were a tad high? Too early to tell. Their early schedule certainly has done favors.
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.
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.
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.
Atlas, the worst team in the fall, opened the second half of the Mexican Primera Division season with a stunning romp that underscores coach Benjamin Galindo's savvy eye for talent.
The Guadalajara-based club, which made several major additions to its roster during the winter break, opened the spring Clausura on Saturday with a 5-0 domination of visiting Morelia.
Gerardo Espinoza matched his Apertura goals total, scoring twice, to lead the Zorros. Former Chicago Fire defender Wilman Conde scored in his Mexican League debut, and 19-year-old Christian Diaz (in his first top-tier game in more than a year) and Daniel Osorno (with his first of the season) also tallied.
“I congratulated the guys in the locker room because [there was] not a single player who did not have a good performance. It speaks well of the commitment that exists with the team,” Galindo told reporters afterward.
“It's a good win which gives us confidence, but that's all. What we have to do is keep working with the same commitment that we had during the preseason.”
Atlas went through three coaches in a 3-10-4 fall campaign, but Galindo, a former Mexican national-teamer, went shopping in four countries to strengthen the club. Conde, Brazilian midfielder Lucio Flavio (from Botafogo) and midfielder Lucas Ayala (from UANL Tigres) contributed to the win Saturday.
BIG BOYS BEATEN: America got robbed. Monterrey got jobbed.
America, a sure title contender, saw two perfectly good goals erased on mistaken offside calls in a 2-0 home loss to Pachuca, which got goals midway through each half by Yulian Anchico and then Edgar Benitez.
Monterrey, which last month won the Apertura title, was outclassed at home by San Luis, also 2-0 -- with the Gladiadores' first goal, by Osmar Mares in the 71st minute, clearly offside. Juan Carlos Medina's sweet chip in stoppage, with the Rayados down a man, doubled the advantage.
America will take on Argentina's Argentinos Juniors and Uruguay's Nacional in group play of next year's Copa Libertadores, but Friday's draw for South America's club competition didn't provide much information for the Aguilas' fellow Mexican qualifiers.
A quick rundown:
AMERICA: Mexico's top qualifier received the toughest draw among the Mexicans. Argentinos Juniors, winner of Argentina's Clausura title, is its country's No. 1 qualifier, and Nacional is Uruguay's No. 2 team in the competition. The fourth club will be Brazil's No. 3 qualifier: Fluminense, Corinthians or Cruzeiro.
Argentinos Juniors won the Libertadores championship in 1985; Nacional has three titles, the last in 1988. Cruzeiro has won twice and was in the 2009 final.
SAN LUIS: The Gladiadores were sent to Group 1, with Peru's (Universidad San Martin or Leon de Huanuco) and Paraguay's (Guarani, Libertad or Cerro Porteño) top qualifiers and Colombia's No. 2 side.
JAGUARES: The Chiapas club will face the No. 3 team from Peru in the home-and-home first stage, with the winner heading to Group 6 with defending champion Internacional from Brazil (which beat Guadalajara in last summer's final), Bolivia's Jorge Wilstermann and Ecuador's No. 2 qualifier, either Emelec or LDU Quito.
SCHEDULE: The top two teams in each of eight groups will advance to the knockout phase. Opening games are scheduled for Jan. 26; group play begins Feb. 9; the knockout stage opens April 27; and the two-leg final will be June 15 and 22.
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 settled for a 0-0 draw at San Luis in Wednesday's other Apertura quarterfinal first leg. Two more series begin Thursday; second legs will be played this weekend.
Gimenez's long-range free kick was deflected by Horacio Cervantes past Pumas goalkeeper Sergio Bernal to pull La Maquina even in the 33rd minute, and his volley from outside the box provided a 73rd-minute lead. Pumas, which dominated play early and went ahead through Dante Lopez in the 19th minute, will need a two-goal victory in Saturday's rematch across Mexico City to move on; higher-seeded teams advance if aggregate is even.
Guillermo Ochoa made three big saves, two on Ignacio Ambriz, and survived a Tressor Moreno blast off the crossbar for America, which has the advantage heading into Saturday's second leg in Mexico City. The fourth-seeded Aguilas were content to sit back and defend as San Luis, which included America Edgar Castillo in its lineup, pressed the issue most of the match.
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.
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 Muñoz 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.”
With two weeks to go in the Mexican Primera Division's Apertura season, here's where we stand in the battle for the eight playoff berths:WHO'S IN: Cruz Azul, Monterrey and Santos Laguna -- Nos. 1, 2 and 3 nearly all season -- claimed spots during last week's "doble jornada"; the Cementeros are guaranteed a top-two seed, and Monterrey is on the verge of wrapping up the other.
So last week's showdown at Estadio Tecnologico was perhaps a title-series preview, and, in a small surprise, first-place Cruz Azul (11-2-2) romped to a 4-2 victory, handing the second-place Rayados (9-1-5) only their second defeat in 33 regular-season matches over 51 weeks. Cesar Villaluz, part of Mexico's 2005 U-17 World Cup-winning side, scored twice for the victors.
So ... who's the team to beat should both reach the final? Go with Monterrey, which won last year's Apertura. Cruz Azul has lost in the past two Apertura finals and in the past two CONCACAF Champions League finals.