SANDY UT - SEPTEMBER 19: Tony Beltran #2 of Real Salt Lake and Cesar Villaluz #18 of Cruz Azul fights for the ball with during the second half of an CONCACAF soccer game October 19 2010 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy Utah. Real Salt Lake beat Cruz Azul 3-1. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
With just one round of games yet to play, the postseason picture remains surprisingly unsettled in Mexico. The penultimate weekend of the regular season did not bring the expected clarity, with several teams failing to get the wins necessary to ensure passage to the playoffs. Only the top three Liguilla spots (Pumas, Tigres, and Morelia) have been decided, and with just one game left for each team to play, everything else remains up for grabs. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest games from Round 16 of the Clausura 2011 season, and how the results impacted the postseason race.
Lost Opportunity for Chivas
On a hot evening in Mexico City, Chivas fans helped turn large portions of the Estadio Azul red. The visiting fans had lots to cheer about, as Chivas looked to be in great shape to grab a rare win on the road against Cruz Azul. Chivas were aided by a key referee decision in the 40th minute, after Cruz Azul’s Horacio Cervantes grabbed the arm of Cubo Torres from behind on a break. With Torres embellishing the contact, the referee showed Cervantes a straight red card, putting an already shorthanded Cruz Azul side (no Torrado, no Droguett) at a great disadvantage. Minutes later, a Chivas free kick from outside the area bounced off the Cruz Azul wall and fell to Marco Fabian. His 25-yard blast gave Chivas the lead, and with the added man advantage, the team from Guadalajara looked to be on their way to the road win.
Instead of continuing to attack, though, Chivas fell back and worked to maintain their one-goal lead. Failing to go for the knockout blow, Chivas ended up leaving the door open for a late equalizer from Emanuel Villa. In the 81st minute, Javier Aquino sent a perfect pass through to a streaking Villa, who beat Luis Michel for the draw. It was a huge goal for Cruz Azul, salvaging a point while snatching two back from Chivas. Luckily for Chivas, with both Monterrey and Santos also failing to win this weekend, they still remain in sold shape to make the Liguilla.
One notable bright spot for Chivas was the first team debut of Kristian Alvarez. The defender, who turned 19 years old just this week, started in place of the injured Hector Reynoso. Alvarez was outstanding in his debut, even making several plays on the ball that the slower-footed Reynoso would never have been able to manage. Saturday night also saw the return of the embattled Bofo Bautista. The Chivas striker came on as a second half sub, his first game action since February, and to his credit showed relatively little rust. While overall it wasn’t the best result possible, barring a crazy turn of events Chivas will be back in the Liguilla this season. Their failure to maintain a lead with a personnel advantage, though, is not a result that inspires great confidence as we head into the postseason.
Rayados Winless Streak Continues
The winless streak continues. The defending champions have now gone seven matches without a win (five domestic, and two in CONCACAF Champions League), after Saturday night’s 1-1 draw with Puebla. Playing at home against a seemingly inferior opponent, it was certainly not the result that Monterrey anticipated.
The game got off to a rough start for the Rayados, when defender Hector Morales made a mess of a clearance and gifted Puebla’s Felix Borja a goal just minutes into the match. Monterrey would strike back, though, behind a goal from Jesus Zavala. William Parades did the work, entering the box from the left side along the endline and sending a pass through several players that ended up at the feet of Zavala.
Unfortunately, Zavala’s 23rd minute blast proved to be the first and last score for Monterrey on the day. Humberto Suazo played the full 90 minutes, but Monterrey just never got the full offense in gear. On the right side of the midfield, veteran Jesus Arellano seemed out of sync at times, and had trouble linking up with Suazo and Dario Carreno up front. Puebla were also helped by some outstanding play in goal from Alexandro Alvarez, and the visiting team held on for the draw. The home fans at Estadio Tecnologico were clearly unhappy with the result, and let the Monterrey players hear it as the team walked off the field.
Monterrey must now travel to Salt Lake City for Wednesday’s CCL final, before returning to Mexico for a road game on Saturday against Chivas to end the season. Monterrey will need a result in next weekend’s match to ensure passage to the postseason. While the Rayados currently hold the eighth and final Liguilla spot, they cling to it by the slimmest thread. Just one goal lifts Monterrey ahead of America in the standings for that last spot, and without a result next weekend the position will easily be lost.
Potros Get the Point
While Monterrey’s failure to win opened the door for America, the Aguilas also failed to take care of business at home. Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Atlante means that if the season ended today, America would not be making a trip to the postseason. Currently America are tied on points with Atlas and Monterrey, but goal differential would send the other two teams through (Atlas two, and Monterrey one goal in front of America).
Continuing his hot streak, Angel Reyna opened the scoring to give America the early lead Sunday evening at Estadio Azteca. Atlante struck back immediately though, with a powerful strike from Giancarlo Maldonado coming off a pass from the playmaker Christian Bermudez. With the score even at the break, Atlante were able to drop back a bit to protect the 1-1 scoreline. A draw would be enough for the Potros to maintain the Group 2 lead, and sure enough they held on for the important road result.
While Atlante are left in a good spot, the failure to win at home leaves America with work left to do. And it certainly won't be easy. After a midweek Copa Libertadores match in Brazil, America will look for a win in a difficult road visit to cross-town rivals Pumas next weekend.
Red Devil Debacle
Epic fail. There's really no other way to describe this one. Under no conditions should any team ever give up a four goal lead at home, especially in a game carrying such great importance, but that's exactly what Toluca did on Sunday.
With Atlas getting a result on Saturday, Toluca knew they needed all three points on Sunday to keep pace in the standings. Playing at home against lowly Estudiantes Tecos, that should have been a relatively easy task for Toluca. And that’s exactly how it looked early on, as the Red Devils made easy work of the Tecos backline. Completely outclassing their opponents, Toluca jumped out to a 4-0 lead at the break.
Whether it was an incredible half-time speech from Chelis, or just basic Toluca overconfidence, things took a major turn in the second half. Just minutes after the break, Toluca defender Edgar Duenas gifted Tecos their first goal, tripping over his own feet in front of the open net and sending the ball in. From there Eduardo Lillingston took over. With his body fully extended in the air, Lillingston sent in a header to give Tecos their second goal and bring hope back to his side. Later in the half, Lillingston took advantage of some weak defending to score his second, thereby cutting the Toluca lead to one. In the 84th minute, Juan Carlos Leano headed in a goal off a corner, and Tecos had achieved the impossible - coming back from a four goal margin in one of Mexico’s most difficult road environments.
As incredible a result this was for Tecos, it was even more devastating for Toluca. While the Red Devils remain alive in the Liguilla race, this result has to be a huge blow to the team’s confidence. Now in fourth place of Group 2, Toluca will need to get a win on the road next weekend in a difficult match against group-leaders Atlante, while also hoping Atlas and America slip up in front of them. It’s certainly still possible, but you really have to ask yourself if a team that performs like Toluca did in the second half on Sunday really deserves a place in the postseason at all.
Round 16 Scoreboard
Necaxa 0 - 1 Pumas
Queretaro 1 - 1 Pachuca
Cruz Azul 1 - 1 Chivas
Monterrey 1 - 1 Puebla
Santos 1 - 3 San Luis
Atlas 2 - 0 Jaguares
Toluca 4 - 4 Estudiantes
Morelia 0 - 3 Tigres
America 1-1 Atlante