Headlining the weekend’s football action in Mexico were decisive wins by Chivas, Cruz Azul, Atlante, and defending champions Monterrey. Before we head into the FIFA international break next weekend, here is a look back at the top stories from Round 11 of the Mexican Primera Clausura 2011 season.
Red Cards Undo the Red Devils
On a beautiful Saturday evening in Mexico City, Cruz Azul and Toluca met in what promised to be a well-played match-up between two great teams. Unfortunately, in a period of just three minutes to close the first half, referee decisions ended up turning the entire match on its head.
The key for Cruz Azul on Saturday was the return of Christian "Chaco" Gimenez, who retook his place in the starting lineup following a midweek CONCACAF Champions League suspension. Even without striker Emanuel Villa, who was given a chance to rest and started the game on the bench, the difference with Gimenez in the lineup was immediately clear. Providing outstanding service that was completely lacking in the midweek loss to Monterrey, Gimenez worked hard throughout the first half to set up striker Isaac Romo.
With the game still scoreless in the 44th minute, things suddenly took a turn. Toluca defender Osvaldo Gonzalez senselessly kicked Gimenez on the ground directly in front of the referee and was rewarded with his second yellow card. Just three minutes later things got even more interesting as Cruz Azul’s Horacio Cervantes collided with Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera in the box. Cervantes was immediately given a straight red card on the play. After both players remained on the ground receiving attention from the respective training staffs, Talavera finally arose to his feet only to be presented with a red card of his own. Both teams were shocked by the decision, but it was Toluca who were suddenly at the greater disadvantage. Down a man (now playing nine on ten) the Red Devils also had to make the change to their backup goalkeeper.
It would prove too much to overcome, as in the second half Gimenez (who else?) played a beautiful ball into the box for Cesar Villaluz. While Villaluz’s header was saved, the loose ball was pounced on by Villa (who came on as a halftime sub) for a follow-up goal to give Cruz Azul the winning 1-0 margin. After the goal, Villa ran over to Chaco, pointing at him with both fingers. Cruz Azul players know how much Gimenez means to this team’s attack, and Villa made sure to give him the proper appreciation and public recognition. While the match may not have gone completely as planned, the win was enough to keep Cruz Azul in second place of Group 3 behind Pumas, as well as in second place in the overall league table.
The Champs are Back
Looking to maintain their recent run of form in both league and CCL play, Monterrey welcomed Club America to Estadio Tecnologico on Saturday evening. In front of the usual packed house, the defending-champion Rayados proved that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with in the current season’s title race.
While Monterrey got the win, in fairness to America it did come with a bit of assistance from the referee. In the 17th minute, America’s Nicolas Olivera completely missed the ball and came flying into Luis Perez with a high left-footed kick. Olivera was shown a straight red card on a play that looked a bit more innocuous in the subsequent replays. Nonetheless, Monterrey were able to make the most out of the resulting personnel advantage with a pair of impressive goals.
In the second half, Monterrey midfielder Walter Ayovi opened the scoring with a long low strike from outside the box, which ended up sneaking past Memo Ochoa into the lower right corner of the goal. Later in the half, Ricardo Osorio used some ankle-breaking moves on the right wing to free himself before sending in a beautiful ball to Dario Cerreno. Finishing expertly with his head, Carreno gave Monterrey the insurmountable two-goal lead. In the game's closing minutes, America would manage to get on the board courtesy of a penalty kick. Vicente Sanchez greatly embellished contact made to his face in the box, drawing a penalty that was converted by Angel Reyna.
The 2-1 win positions Monterrey just one point behind rivals Tigres at the top of Group 1. With 19 points the Rayados are also now fifth overall in the full league standings. After an inconsistent start to the season, it seems that the defending champions are suddenly hitting their stride. Monterrey have won three straight league games (as well as three straight CCL matches), and look like a solid pick for a Liguilla playoff spot even with a few difficult matches still to come in the closing weeks of the season.
Torture in Torreon
Playing under a spectacular full moon at home in Torreon's Estadio Corona, Santos Laguna finally looked to be back to their old selves. The runners-up in the last two consecutive seasons, Santos have been mired in an enormous slump as of late. On Saturday night against Morelia, though, the team came out ready to play. Creating numerous scoring chances in the first half, Santos were just never able to break through.
With Santos unable to finish, Morelia turned the tables on the home team late in the match. A Monarcas counter-attack in the 86th minute led to a goal for striker Rafael Marquez, his fifth score in as many games. It was a disastrous ending for Santos, who played well enough to win for the first time in weeks, but ended up with the 0-1 loss at home.
With Saturday night’s result, Santos have now dropped five consecutive matches, and have yet to win under new manager Diego Cocca. Already sitting in last place of the Group 1 standings, the upcoming road gets no easier. Santos next host Cruz Azul in the first game back following the FIFA break.
After scoring just one total goal in their last three matches, Chivas had no trouble getting on the board at home against Queretaro on Saturday night. Led by young striker Erick "Cubo" Torres, possibly the heir apparent to Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Chivas earned a much-needed win to stay in playoff contention.
Reinstated this weekend after his suspension for last week’s ridiculous red card was overturned, Torres immediately made his presence felt. Just five minutes into the match, Torres collected a pass from Omar Arellano with his chest and finished perfectly past Queretaro keeper Jorge Alberto Diaz for the early lead. In the second half Torres struck again. Coming off another pass from Arellano, Torres finished with his head in traffic to give Chivas the winning 2-0 margin.
It was just the third time all season that Chivas have managed multiple goals, and was another great showing from the quickly developing partnership between Arellano and Torres. More importantly, the win also keeps Chivas alive for a playoff spot. With six games left to play, Chivas are ninth in the overall league standings, currently just one point outside of a Liguilla place. If Torres can maintain this scorching form, Chivas may just end up sneaking into the postseason.
With respect to "Cubo" Torres, the most dominating performance of the weekend has to be awarded to the suddenly resurgent Atlante Potros. Playing at home in Cancun against Jaguares de Chiapas, Atlante demolished their opponents for an easy 5-1 victory. With two goals each from Francisco "Kikin" Fonseca and Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez, Atlante are suddenly a force to be reckoned with in the league. While Jaguares (who have been focusing primarily on their Copa Libertadores campaign this season) played the second half of the match a man down, Atlante’s win was no less impressive. Coming after the pervious week’s dominant performance over Pachuca, Atlante have now won two straight games by a combined 9-1 margin.
As the only team in Group 2 to manage a win this weekend, the big result ended up moving Atlante all the way from fifth to first in the group standings. Somewhat improbably, Atlante now holds the top spot, tied with America and San Luis on points but ahead in goal differential. With the standings still wide open, there’s no reason that Atlante and their powerful attack can’t claim one of the group’s two automatic playoff spots by season's end.
Elsewhere Around the League
In other action this weekend, Estudiantes Tecos and UANL Tigres played to a 0-0 draw in Jalisco on Friday night; a late goal from Michael Ortega salvaged a home 1-1 draw for San Luis against Atlas; Puebla got their fourth win of the season, a 1-0 home victory over Necaxa; and on Sunday afternoon in Mexico City, Pachuca earned a road result against league-leaders Pumas UNAM with a 0-0 draw.
Estudiantes 0-0 Tigres
Monterrey 2-1 America
Cruz Azul 1-0 Toluca
Chivas 2-0 Queretaro
Santos 0-1 Morelia
San Luis 1-1 Atlas
Atlante 5-1 Jaguares
Puebla 1-0 Necaxa
Pumas 0-0 Pachuca