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Liga MX roundup: Pumas, Santos earn victories on the road

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As the Apertura season comes to a close for a few teams, Santos managed to end the campaign on a positive note, while Pumas finished up two goals and as many players against Puebla.

[ MORE: AC Milan, Inter finish level in Derby della Madonnina ]

Puebla 0-3 Pumas

When Patricio Araujo earned a straight red card heading into the halftime break, it was only a sign of things to come for Puebla on the evening. When Francisco Torres was shown a second red card for Puebla, it spelt the end of their chances of winning. Pumas took advantage of playing up a man and gained the lead in the 54th minute when Pablo Barrera converted from the penalty spot. Matias Britos doubled the lead for the visitors nine minutes later after tapping in a Barrera cross from close range, before Barrera netted his second goal of the match in the 81st minute.

Pumas moves up to sixth in the table with Sunday’s victory, while Puebla drops to 12th based on goal differential.

Toluca 1-2 Santos

Santos created some separation from last-place side Chiapas on Sunday after picking up three points on the road against Toluca. Goals from Carlos Izquierdoz and Jonathan Rodriguez helped pace Santos, who now sit on 16 points. Izquierdoz broke the deadlock after 27 minutes when the Santos man headed home a Walter Sandoval corner kick, while Rodriguez doubled the advantage for the visitors with under a quarter hour remaining.

Toluca managed to pull a goal back late through Maikon Leite in the 89th minute, but the hosts couldn’t knick a result. The loss puts Toluca in 10th place on 24 points, as the side closes out the Apertura season.

Cruz Azul defeats Toluca, claims record sixth CONCACAF crown

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Thanks to a first half goal from Argentine Mariano Pavone, Cruz Azul has finally managed to transcend its reputation. After runners-up finishes in the 2009 and 2010 CONCACAF Champions League — and second place finishes in four Mexican league tournaments in the last seven years — La Maquina had become Mexico’s nearly-club, but with a 1-1 result Wednesday in Toluca, Cruz Azul finally broke through. After a 0-0 result last week at Estadio Azul, Luis Fernando Tena’s team claimed CONCACAF’s title on away goals.

Edgar Benítez’s late tally brought the Red Devils back even, but after a scoreless draw last week in Mexico City, Pavone goal gave Cruz Azul the  final’s first tiebreaker. Though Toluca nearly went up through Pablo Velazquez late, Liga MX’s second place team was unable to overcome the Clausura’s pacesetters, leaving Tena’s team to claim its CONCACAF history.

Cruz Azul entered the final tied with Club América for most confederation titles (five), though thanks to the club’s near misses on the domestic front, La Maquina had acquired a reputation for second place finishes. That reputation was only reinforced after last week’s leg in Mexico City, where chances for attacker Marco Fabián failed to produce a goal, allowing Toluca to take a 0-0 result out of Mexico City.

But with the Mexican sides accustomed to each others’ home venue, the scoreless draw in failed to dissuade La Maquina. Instead, Pavone, held relatively quiet in last Tuesday’s first leg, was able to break though before half time, putting the impetus on Toluca to respond.

RELATED FROM SOCCERLYWhat historic title means for Cruz Azul

Though Velazquez came close, the Diablos Rojos were ultimately unable to keep the Cementaros from claiming its their CONCACAF title since 1997 – an honor that qualifies the team for December’s Club World Cup. First to qualify for the FIFA tournament, Cruz Azul will join the six other FIFA confederations in Morocco, where a team from the host country’s domestic league will also contest club soccer’s world title.

In the interim, Cruz Azul gets to savior a victory that could signal a small change in the club’s identity. Though the club has consistently built talented, competitive teams,  it’s also become associated with an ability to transcend  the final hurdle, whether that hurdle be a Liguilla or a Champions League final.

After Wednesday’s draw in Toluca, that perception may evaporate. Cruz Azul finally gets to size a crown.

 

Toluca eliminates Alajuelense from CONCACAF Champions League, guarantees Mexico another title

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Though the second finalist won’t be determined until tomorrow, Toluca’s Tuesday night win over Alajuelense in  CONCACAF Champions League’s semifinals ensures recent history will repeat itself. While this year’s final won’t be another Monterrey-Santos Laguna affair, the Red Devils’ outset of the Costa Ricans means two Liga MX teams will contest CONCACAF’s title for the fourth time in five years, with no other federation having claimed the region’s crown since the competition changed format in 2008.

On Tuesday, up 1-0 after their victory in Costa Rica last week, Toluca got goals from Carlos Esquivel and Juan Manuel Salgueiro, recovering from the Erizos’ early challenge to post an easy 2-0 (3-0, aggregate) victory. The two-time confederation champions now await the winner of Tijuana-Cruz Azul, with Xolos having earned a 1-0 lead last week at Estadio Caliente.

Regardless of what happens on that side of the draw, Toluca’s win guarantees Mexico’s monopoly of Champions League will continue. For the ninth straight tournament — a time that extends back to the old Champions Cup — a Mexican team will be crowned champions. Were it not for Real Salt Lake’s appearance in the 2010-11 finals, each finalist since the tournament’s redesign would have been Mexican, with 16 of the competition’s 24 semifinalists having hailed from Mexico’s league.

Go back further, and the picture is only slightly more diverse. Since Major League Soccer came into existence in 1996, three different federations have claimed CONCACAF’s title, but only Mexico has held the crown since 2006. In 2005, Saprissa made it back-to-back titles for Costa Rica, with Alajuelense having won the previous year. Slightly before that, MLS claimed this only titles with D.C. United (1998) and LA Galaxy (2000) each winning one title.

Tomorrow, Cruz Azul will try to turn around its one-goal deficit against visiting Tijuana, but the story of Mexico’s dominance has already been written. In 2014, the league’s hegemony continues, with the league set to claim a 30th CONCACAF title.

San Jose files complaint, alleges Toluca filmed CCL training session

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It’s Tuesday in Toluca. San Jose’s working out at Estadio Nemesio Díaz, preparing for their CONCACAF Champions League match against the Red Devils. Presumably, there’s almost nobody around, which makes it easy to spot one guy with a camera pointed at the field. According to reports, that guy may have been a Toluca employee, part of the reason why the Earthquakes have filed a complaint with CONCACAF.

FOX Sports’ Brian Dunseth originally had the next on Wednesday night. On Thursday, the Earthquakes confirmed their “formal, written complaint” through the league’s website.

San Jose was eliminated on Wednesday after their 1-1 (2-2, agg.) result against Toluca sent the teams to penalty kicks. Once there, a sixth round miss from midfielder Shea Salinas allowed the Red Devils to advance to the competition’s semifinals.

What could happen should the Earthquakes’ complaint is verified is unclear. The league website sought clarification from CONCACAF but got no response. While some type of fine would seem like the obvious course of action, we’re in somewhat unchartered territory. This tournament is too young to have much established precedent in this area.

San Jose travels to Sporting Kansas City this weekend for their second game of the Major League Soccer season. Toluca visits Atlante and awaits the winner of Alajuelense and Árabe Unico on Champions League’s semifinals.

San Jose’s near miss in Toluca still a setback for Major League Soccer

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After six rounds of penalty kicks, Major League Soccer’s luck in Mexico hadn’t changed, but after Shea Salinas’s shootout try nailed Alfredo Talavera’s woodwork, San Jose had come closer than most. Succumbing in extra kicks after a 2-2 (agg.) draw, the Earthquakes bowed out of CONCACAF Champions League, but only after a 5-4 shootout sent Liga MX’s Toluca into the tournament’s final four.

It was the closet an MLS team has ever come to eliminating a Mexican side south of the border in this competition, a result few would have fathomed when San Jose’s starting XI was announced. There was no Chris Wondolowski, started on the bench with a slight hamstring problem. Alan Gordon also was kept out of the XI, though he would join the captain on the field by full-time. But Víctor Bernández was suspended, while fellow starting defender Clarence Goodson is still struggling with injury. When the team kicked off at the Estadio Nemesio Díez, rookie J.J. Koval joined Ty Harden in center defense, with Billy Schuler and Khari Stephenson also starting under do-or-die circumstances.

Perhaps that’s why Watson tried to shorten the game. In the first half, San Jose left Steven Lenhart alone up top, dropped nine into their defensive third, and tried to get to halftime without scoring a goal. Forty-five minutes later, the score was still 1-1, and while Toluca still held the away goals edge, its willingness to sit on that lead played into San Jose’s hands.

Eleven minutes after half-time, Watson’s plan came good. On a set piece from just inside Toluca’s half, Salinas (pictured) lofted a ball toward the middle of Talavera’s area. There Harden beat midfielder Wilson Thiago to finish inside the right post, giving San Jose a 2-1 lead and eliminating Toluca’s away goals edge. Though fitness and history were against them, the Earthquakes had gone in front.

The lead only lasted 13 minutes, though, before a blast from outside the area from Isaac Brizuela made it 2-2. Collecting the ball after a cleared set piece, Brizuela hit a 20-yard shot through the penalty box’s traffic and into the left side of Jon Busch’s goal, giving the San Jose keeper little chance to stop the score that took the team to penalty kicks.

Before the 120th minute, however, both teams had chances to avoid the shootout. Alan Gordon was controversially ruled offside on a ball that ended up in Talavera’s net, while San Cronin and Busch were both called on to make big saves to keep the Earthquakes alive.

In the shootout, each teams failed to covert its initial kick before making the next four, sending Thiago to the spot with the first sudden death try. Diving to his left, Busch nearly made his second save for the shootout, though the ball’s momentum eventually saw it bounce in front of the line but go under the crossbar.

Salinas, however, wasn’t as fortunate. Though Talavera guessed left, Salinas went right, only to put his try off the cross bar. After playing to a draw over 180 minutes, Toluca and San Jose were separated by only the width of a bar. The Red Devils move on. San Jose goes home.

Particularly given their shortcomings, the Earthquakes gave an effort they can be proud of, but looking at the result from the larger, league perspective, it adds to the list of disappointments Major League Soccer has endured at Mexico’s boots. Though San Jose came closer to advancing than any team that’s faced Liga opposition in Mexico in a knockout round, it ultimately came up short. As MLS pushes for greater significant, Mexico continues to hold it as arm’s length in CCL.

Are moral victories enough? Not for a league whose commissioner has tasked it with being the region’s best. Though the second half was exciting and San Jose’s effort, tactics, and results can be commended, the result was another setback for Major League Soccer, if only a small one.