Another week, another change at the top of the Mexican Primera league standings. Cruz Azul moves into the top spot after Round 7, courtesy of their 2-1 take down of cross-town rivals Pumas. In other weekend action, the league’s two grande clubs -- Chivas and Club America -- both fell by identical 0-2 scorelines. While in Monterrey, the players did their part to help begin the city's healing process.
A Win for the City
Saturday night's match between Monterrey and Santos Laguna was played against the unfortunate backdrop of tragic violence. With the city of Monterrey still reeling from the deadly casino attacks, the Rayados football club made every effort to turn Saturday night’s match at Estadio Tecnologico into an uplifting, positive event. Monterrey’s fans wore white as a sign of unity and peace, and the players let lose white balloons on the field prior to match in memory of the attack’s victims.
From the opening whistle, the fans in attendance were treated to a highly entertaining, back and forth first half of football. Both teams created early chances, but it was the Rayados who broke through to open the scoring. An Aldo de Nigris header off a Monterrey corner just missed, the ball ricocheting off the cross bar and eventually falling to the feet of Luis Perez. From well outside the area Perez proceeded to blast a shot past Oswaldo Sanchez for the 1-0 lead. Late in the half there was a bit of controversy, as Monterrey's Jose Maria Basanta was sent off for a challenge on Oribe Peralta. Nothing more than a yellow probably should have been shown on the play, but the man-disadvantage would prove to be no issue for the Rayados. In the second half, a header from Humberto Suazo doubled the margin, and Monterrey held on for the 2-0 win. It was an important victory for the team, showing that the players had no trouble rebounding from a disappointing midweek CONCACAF Champions League loss to the Seattle Sounders. And more importantly, the win gave Monterrey’s fans something positive to rally around in the midst of a horrible tragedy.
Borja Comes Up Big
It took seven rounds of play, but finally this weekend Felix Borja had his breakout performance in a Pachuca uniform. The Ecuadorian striker made a reappearance in the Pachuca starting lineup on Saturday against Club America, and the move paid off in a big way. Borja scored his first and second ever goals for Pachuca, propelling his team to the 2-0 home win.
From the opening whistle it was Borja leading the way as Pachuca swarmed the America defense in the early going. After a few near misses, the Tuzos jumped out to the early lead when a perfect pass from Mauro Cejas sprung Borja loose for the opening goal. Borja celebrated by donning a Blue Demon luchador mask, and the home fans went crazy. Pachuca continued to apply pressure for the rest of the half, while the Tuzo backline fully contained Christian Benitez at the other end.
In the second half it was Borja again -- this time scoring with a powerful header to give Pachua an insurmountable two goal advantage. With the victory, Pachuca has now managed to outscore America by a 7-0 margin over their last three meetings. Saturday night’s win was also Pachuca's third victory at home this season, and moved them up to sixth in the league standings. For America things are moving in the opposite direction. With just one win in their last five matches, many of the America fans have begun to vent their frustrations at manager Carlos Reinoso. As if on cue, club president Michel Bauer emerged on Monday to publicly give Reinoso his vote of confidence. Surprisingly, Bauer also essentially placed all the blame on the players during the news conference. Currently out of Liguilla position in 11th place in the league table, Reinoso certainly has some work to do. If improvements aren’t quickly made, we may soon see Bauer changing his tune.
Undefeated No More
Chivas had to drop a match at some point, the bigger surprise was that the loss came against San Luis. After four wins in their opening five games, Chivas traveled to San Luis on Saturday night and turned in an uninspiring performance on the road. It was a huge drop off in effort for Chivas, who beat Monterrey just one week prior.
The match started out slow for both teams, as each side struggled to create any consistent positive forward momentum. After a lackluster opening 45 minutes (blink and you missed the first half highlights), San Luis managed to claim the advantage after the break. Jamie Correa sent a perfect ball over the top to Michael Arroyo, who finished for the 1-0 lead. That single San Luis goal would have been enough, but MacNelly Torres added a second for good measure later in the half.
Overall it was a fairly embarrassing night for Chivas, who walked away with their first defeat of the season (leaving Tigres as the league's lone undefeated team). Despite the loss, Guadalajara is still in excellent shape -- just one point behind first place Cruz Azul, and with a game in hand. Chivas will cash that extra match in on Friday night against Tijuana, in a game that may be a bit more difficult that it appears on paper. Chivas will be missing several key players called up to the U-20 national team over the FIFA break, including Jorge Enriquez, Antionio Gallardo, Miguel Ponce, and Jesus Sanchez. Despite the personnel losses, Chivas will need to fight to get back on track with a win against the Xolos. Things get no easier the following week in round 8, when Chivas face a tough road match against Santos Laguna.
Man Down at UNAM
The return of Chaco Gimenez to the Cruz Azul lineup was the big story heading into Sunday’s rivalry match against Pumas UNAM. Gimenez showed minimal rust following his six-match ban, going 90 minutes to help lead Cruz Azul to the 2-1 road win over their intra-city rivals.
The visitors got on the board first, with Gerardo Flores knocking in a ball off a corner kick. Martin Bravo equalized for Pumas just a few minutes later with a shot that wasn't pretty, but somehow just trickled outside the arms of Yosgart Gutierrez. The match shifted early in the second half, with Pumas negatively impacted by a straight red card shown to Luis Fuentes. Cruz Azul eventually took advantage, with Adrian Cortes beating Alejandro Palacios for the game-winner. The win was la maquina’s second in a row, and moves them into sole possession of first place in the league standings.
For the defending champions, it was the second straight loss and the fourth league game in a row without a win. After rolling off three straight wins to start the season, Pumas are suddenly reeling with just two points earned in their last four matches. To be fair, though, the team has been dealing with injury issues. Paco Palencia, Juan Carlos Cacho, and Marco Palacios all did not play this weekend. Pumas have continued working a lot of their young players into the lineup, and this week it was Diego De Buen making his debut. The biggest factor for Pumas, though, may just be the fact that it’s hard to win when you are constantly at a numerical disadvantage. Sunday was the third straight match in which a Pumas player was sent off with a red card. If UNAM can find a way to keep eleven men on the field, maybe things will improve. Either way the team is still in solid position to qualify for the postseason, and following the FIFA break Pumas returns with a very winnable match against Queretaro.
Goal of the Week
Luis Perez's first half blast to give Monterrey the lead over Santos takes this week's award. Lucho's golazo comes 0:24 into the clip below.
Goal Celebration of the Week
Feliz Borja celebrated his first ever goal for Pachuca with a Blue Demon mask and dance that the home crowd loved, but ended up earning him a yellow card (Borja wisely decided to forgo the mask following his second goal of the game).
Round 7 Scoreboard
Jaguares 1 - 1 Toluca
Pachuca 2 - 0 Club America
Monterrey 2 - 0 Santos
San Luis 2 - 0 Chivas
Atlas 0 - 1 Tigres
Atlante 2 - 1 Estudiantes
Pumas 1 - 2 Cruz Azul
Tijuana 1 - 1 Queretaro
Morelia 0 - 0 Puebla