This weekend’s football action in Mexico was packed with great match-ups, including not one, but two clasicos, as well as a game between two teams at the top of the league standings. Here’s a look back at the biggest stories from an exciting Round 10 of the Mexican Primera Clausura 2011 season.
Tito Villa, Cruz Azul Legend
There are two ways for Cruz Azul players to establish themselves as club legends: help win a league championship (rather than a runners-up trophy), or lead your team to a clasico victory over Club America. The Clasico Joven, as the match-up between these two bitter Mexico City rivals is known, has been one of the best rivalries in Mexico of late. But while Cruz Azul has had some great teams in recent seasons, it has been eight long years since la Maquina came away with a win at the Estadio Azteca. Things would go a bit differently on Sunday evening, though. In front of a great crowd at the massive stadium, Cruz Azul striker Emanuel "Tito" Villa would need just three minutes of game play to forever cement his legacy with the club.
The scoring opened in the 16th minute when Christian "Chaco" Gimenez sent an excellent ball into the box from the left side. With a brilliant touch of his head, Villa sent the ball back over his right shoulder to beat America goalkeeper Memo Ochoa. Less than three minutes later it was Chaco again making work of the left flank, before sending another great pass into the box. This time Villa used his foot to finish, hitting a powerful strike to give Cruz Azul a 2-0 lead which would prove to be the final margin.
When Gimenez and Villa connect for goals, Cruz Azul is almost unbeatable. With Gimenez dominating the left side for most of the match, the duo proved too much for the America defense to handle. It was a badly needed win for Cruz Azul, who required the three points to keep pace in the Group 3 standings. Pumas is still running away with the group lead, but Sunday’s win brought the Azul back into a tie with Morelia for second place. After disappointing draws in their last two games against lowly Queretaro and Necaxa, there was no more satisfying a way for Cruz Azul to get back on track than a win over their bitter rivals.
In the early stages of the weekend’s other clasico, Chivas looked to be on top of the world. Just twelve minutes into the Clasico Tapatio, young wunderkind Chivas striker Erick "Cubo" Torres found space in the box and knocked home a pass from Omar Arellano for an early 1-0 lead over cross-town rivals Atlas. But after celebrating with an impromptu robot dance at the corner flag, the plot suddenly shifted. The referee showed Torres a straight red for what was perceived to be an obscene gesture (allegedly a middle finger) made towards the Atlas supporters section following his goal celebration. With Chivas understandably in shock, the team was left further reeling less than 15 minutes later when Xavi Baez was shown his second yellow card. Just like that Chivas were down to nine men with over 60 minutes of the match still left to play.
The Chivas defense held strong, though. While Atlas turned on the pressure in the second half, they ultimately could manage just one goal. On the Atlas scoring play, Chivas keeper Luis Michel gave up too much room to his near post and Flavio Jesus Santos beat him to the inside along the endline. Still, it was a testament to the strength of the Chivas defense that the unit was able to withstand over 60 minutes with just nine players and still walk away with the draw. In the end it was just too bad that a referee decided to exert his own storyline on what appeared to be shaping into an exciting edition of Mexico’s oldest rivalry.
Pumas Stay the Course
Sunday’s game between Monarcas Morelia and Pumas UNAM matched up the two top teams in the standings as well as two of the hottest teams in the league in recent weeks. In front of a packed house at Estadio Morelos, it was the visiting Pumas team who came out ready to play - controlling possession early and pressing the action forward.
Morelia were further thrown off their game by a horrific injury to defender Mauricio Romero in the 12th minute of the match. Martin Bravo inadvertently rolled over onto Romero’s leg, causing it to bend back in gruesome fashion. The repeated television replays following the injury were nausea-inducing. In obvious pain, Romero was stretchered off and immediately taken to the hospital by ambulance.
While the action for both teams picked up in the second half, the injury had clearly taken its toll on Morelia from a mental standpoint. And in the 57th minute Pumas were finally able to take control. On a Pumas corner kick, the ball was knocked outside the box to Leandro Augusto, who then lobed the ball back in to Paco Palencia. A wide-open Palencia volleyed home a shot past Morelia keeper Federico Vilar for what proved to be the game winner. It may not have been the offensive shootout we were expecting from the league’s top two scoring teams, but both defenses proved themselves to be better than expected.
Pumas will be further bolstered by the return of striker Juan Carlos Cacho, who came into the game as a second half sub for his first game action in six weeks. Cacho led the way for Pumas early in the season, scoring in each of the first four games before suffering an injury in training with the Mexican national team. Still undefeated, and now reloading, Pumas show no signs of slowing down their confident march towards the Liguilla top seed.
Red Devil Resurrection
Sunday’s match between Toluca and Santos Laguna brought together two talented teams each carrying three game losing streaks. Both clubs started the season with high expectations, only to stumble mightily in recent weeks. Toluca’s sudden dip in form was more dramatic, with their once stout defense conceding an astonishing 13 goals in the three games prior to this weekend. Toluca also dropped their last two matches at home, an almost unheard of feat for a club with one of the best homefield advantages in Mexico.
Toluca were back at home again on Sunday, but this time the team actually decided to show up. Just seconds into the match a Jamie Ayovi header gave Toluca an instant lead. The Red Devils followed this up minutes later with a score from defender Diego Novaretti for an almost immediate two goal advantage. Shortly thereafter Santos midfielder Fernando Arce was injured, forcing the team to make an early change while already down two goals. The early hole proved too much to overcome for Santos, as in the end this just happened to be Toluca’s day. Reclaiming some of their lost homefield hegemony, Toluca went on to win by a decisive 3-1 scoreline.
Even with their recent struggles, Sunday’s win leaves Toluca just one point behind America at the top of Group 2. For Santos, the situation is much more severe. Their fourth straight loss leaves them in the basement of Group 1, a full nine points behind group leaders Tigres. Barring a miraculous turn in form, it now appears increasingly likely that the team who finished as runners-up the past two seasons will not be making a return trip to the Liguilla.
From Bad to Worse in Pachuca
On paper, Saturday night’s match looked to be a great chance for Pachuca to rebound from their recent run of bad results. Playing at home against a similarly struggling Atlante side, it appeared to be a great opportunity to get back on track. Instead, Pachuca was left reeling.
Atlante easily picked apart the Pachuca defense, scoring four goals in the first half to cruise to an easy 4-0 win. Things went from bad to worse just before halftime, when on Atlante’s fourth score Pachuca goalkeeper Miguel Calero was injured. Following the match came the news that Calero would require surgery, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
With Estudiantes Tecos and Queretaro both winning this weekend, Pachuca's loss leaves them just one point above dead last position in the full league table - with only Jaguares below them. And unfortunately, things don't get much brighter on the horizon for the Tuzos. Next weekend Pachuca must travel to Mexico City to face the league’s best team Pumas in Estadio Olimpico. Even if a Liguilla spot is out of reach at this point, new manager Efrain Flores must find some way to give this team hope for a turnaround.
Elsewhere Around the League
In other action, a Humberto Suazo-less Monterrey gutted out a 1-0 road win over Necaxa, Estudiantes Tecos managed a 2-0 victory over slumping Jaguares, Queretaro picked up a much-needed 2-1 win over Puebla, and Tigres and San Luis played to a 1-1 draw.
Necaxa 0 - 1 Monterrey
Jaguares 0 - 2 Estudiantes
Queretaro 2 - 1 Puebla
Tigres 1 - 1 San Luis
Pachuca 0 - 4 Atlante
Atlas 1 - 1 Chivas
Toluca 3 - 1 Santos
Morelia 0 - 1 Pumas
America 0 - 2 Cruz Azul