Finalists Toluca, Tijuana hope surprise Liga MX campaigns end with title

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Club Tijuana made life difficult on themselves, bringing a 2-0 deficit to León back to Estadio Caliente ahead of Sunday’s final leg of their Liga MX semifinal. Thankfully for the league’s Cinderella story — a fairy tale that’s evolved over the last two years — it only took 68 minutes for Fidel Martínez and Dubier Riascos to put them back on course. When substitute Ricard Ruiz put the tie out of reach with a late goal, Tijuana was in their first Primera Division final.

The weight of the occasion wasn’t lost on Xolos.

“It’s really a great feeling for the group,” striker Alfredo Moreno said after the game. “We wanted it. We wanted to be in the final, and it showed in the game. We’re very happy.”

“[T]hey played a superior match from beginning to end,” head coach Antonio Mohamed said of his players. “[It] was 3-0, but it would have been five or six.”

The only misgiving for fans of the league was seeing the league’s northern-most club, in only their third tournament since being promoted last summer, had to go through another recently elevated squad to make the final. León, the five-time league champions who had spent 10 years in the second division moving up this summer, saw their Cinderella story end within sight of the border.

That they, along with Tijuana, spent the season at the top of the table made the Apertura as an indictment of Mexico’s promotion-relegation policies. Each summer, only one team is promoted into the 18-team first division, and since the Ascenso uses a spring playoff to decide the new Liga MX club, there’s no guaranteed that the best team will move up. Club León had to go through five failed playoffs before winning their return to the Primera, and the team that won this season’s second division Apertura (Necaxa, by seven points), was eliminated Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s Dorado in that Liguilla’s semifinals.

Had Tijuana met León in the Primera’s final, it would have been vindication for all the second division clubs struggling to make it through Mexico’s bottleneck. Instead Toluca, the qualification stage champions, made it though, holding off a ferocious América comeback on Sunday to win 3-2, reaffirmed the surprise nature of this season’s opening tournament.

In recent seasons, the Apertura has been the more difficult to Mexico’s two tournaments, and in that sense, it’s also been more predictable. Teams at full strength coming off of a summer’s rebuilding came concentrate on the domestic competition. Come the Clausura, teams will devote attentions to CONCACAF’s Champions League and Copa Libertadores, often merely trying to survive the qualification stage with the hopes of being able to concentrate on the Liguilla. Monterrey, two-time defending confederation champions, have won two of the last three Aperturas but, as they’ve driven toward their CONCACAF titles, have been unable to win a Clausura.

That Toluca, who had not been a factor since Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre was in charge, finished first was a surprise, albeit one fans had 17 rounds to get used to. Under Chepo, Toluca won two titles from 2008-2010 before losing their coach to Mexican national team. De la Torre’s successors — Sergio Lugo, Héctor Eugui, and Wilson Graniolatti — had failed to return Toluca to the postseason, let alone significance. Though the Diablos Rojos have won 10 league titles, few thought they’d get their chance at a record-tying 11th this soon.

It took another of Liga MX’s most renown coaches, Enrique Meza, to get the Red Devils back on track. In two previous spells with Toluca, Meza won three of his four career titles. More recently, Meza spent six tournaments at Cruz Azul but failed to make a final, something he achieved in his first tournament back in Toluca.

“I do not play, I just run the team,” Meza said, asked if his experience will be an advantage against Tijuana after his team eliminated América.

His team, however, retains 10 players who won at least one title under de la Torre. Sinha, the team’s captain, has been with the club since Meza’s first tenure in Toluca. And let’s not forget those 10 titles. While both finalists qualify as surprises, one team has certainly been here before. Tijuana still carries the aura of upstarts.

Come Sunday, that upstarts’ aura could be gone. Then, Xolos will be at Toluca, having hosted the Red Devils in Thursday’s first leg at Estadio Caliente. If they show the same focus that brought them back from two down to León, Mexico will have a new, first-time Champion. If not, Toluca will tie Chivas for the most titles in Mexican history.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool dominates, selling Coutinho discussed

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start off today’s show by discussing Man United’s win at The Hawthorns as Lukaku scores for the second straight match with Juan Mata impressing with his link up play. The guys also look at Alan Pardew’s influence on the Baggies. Liverpool net four in a dominating victory over Bournemouth and with Mo Salah continuing to dominate, the Robbies ask: can Liverpool now afford to sell Coutinho? And finally, the guys discuss Bournemouth’s recent struggles.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Report: PSV likely to land Man City, USMNT’s Palmer-Brown on loan

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A number of well-known American players have completed moves to Europe over the years, and a former Sporting KC defender is about to embark on his own journey abroad.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Bournemouth to go fourth ]

U.S. youth national team centerback Erik Palmer-Brown is headed to Premier League side Manchester City, who currently leads the English top flight, after signing a pre-contract with the club back in September.

It is now believed though that the young player will go on loan once he arrives with the English side.

Metro is reporting is that Palmer-Brown is likely to complete a move to Dutch Eredivisie club PSV Eindhoven on loan.

Palmer-Brown helped the U.S. Under-20 national team reach the quarterfinals at this year’s U-20 World Cup in South Korea, after previously representing several other U.S. youth national teams.

La Liga & Serie A: Barca routs Deportivo, AC Milan routed

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

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Barcelona 4-0 Deportivo

Although Lionel Messi’s stardom was rewarded prior to the match at the Camp Nou with the European Golden Shoe, the Argentine forward couldn’t crack the scoresheet one the game kicked off. That didn’t matter though, as Luis Suarez and Paulinho each bagged braces on the day to keep Barcelona six points clear of Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Messi, who had a penalty kick attempt saved in the second half, came close on several occasions, but couldn’t find the scoring touch for the Blaugrana.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Girona 1-0 Getafe
Celta Vigo 0-1 Villareal
Las Palmas 2-2 Espanyol


Hellas Verona 3-0 AC Milan

If AC Milan’s season wasn’t bad enough prior to Sunday, today’s performance at the Stadio Marc`Antonio Bentegodi could have only made the club’s outlook much, much worse. Hellas captured its third league win of the season, however, the team remains in 19th in Serie A despite picking up three points. Meanwhile, the Rossoneri fell to eight in Italy’s top flight, after Genaro Gattuso’s men were completely outplayed on the road. To make matters worse for the struggling side, Suso earned a straight red card in the dying minutes, leaving Milan to fend with 10 men.

Bologna 0-3 Juventus

At the top of Serie A, things are getting very intriguing as the season nears its halfway point. Juventus did its part to keep pressure on league leaders Napoli, but four teams currently sit within four points of one another at the league’s summit, making for a testy title race. Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic each scored before halftime, giving the Bianconeri a comfortable lead before the break. Meanwhile, ex-PSG man Blaise Matuidi capped off the game’s scoring in the 64th minute.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Atalanta 3-3 Lazio
Benevento 1-2 SPAL
Sampdoria 0-1 Sassuolo
Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa
Crotone 1-0 Chievo Verona

Charity match raised significant money for Hurricane Harvey victims

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On Saturday night, a charity soccer match in Houston, Texas helped raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

[ MORE: Liverpool batters Bournemouth to go fourth ]

The “Kick in for Houston” game was organized by former Houston Dynamo and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Stu Holden — now an analyst for Fox Sports 1. Holden served as one of the team captains, while former NBA star Steve Nash captained the other team.

In total, Holden’s event raised over $239,000 for hurricane relief funds, per the event’s website.

Saturday’s match featured several other notable celebrities and current, as well as, former soccer player, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Mia Hamm and U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kyle Martino.

The game — which was an 8 vs. 8 fixture — finished 12-12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Holden spoke after the match about the overall success of the event, and the sort of impact it had for the Texas community.

“Amazing,” Holden said after the game. “If I pictured three months ago after I sent that tweet that this was going to be the turnout… everybody that came, all the athletes, all the people in the crowd, all the work that’s gone on behind the scenes, I can promise you it’s a lot more than it seems.

“I’m caught up in the middle of all this, but I thought this was an amazing, amazing night, and I hope to do another of these in the future.”

Additionally, Holden and Co. will be auctioning off game-worn kits from Saturday’s game to also benefit hurricane victims.