Three of the eight playoff berths have been taken, and the fight for the final five is heating up as the Mexican Primera Division heads into its penultimate weekend of the regular season, with a dozen teams still in contention, but only eight of them really in the race.
In: Pumas UNAM (9-1-5), UANL Tigres (8-2-5) and Morelia (8-3-4)
On the verge: Guadalajara (6-3-6), Cruz Azul (7-5-3) and Atlante (7-6-2)
Above the wire: Monterrey (6-5-4) and America (7-7-1)
Just outside looking in: Toluca (5-5-5), Atlas (5-5-5) and Santos Laguna (6-7-2), all two points out of the final spot
Alive, but not for long: Puebla (5-8-2), Pachuca (4-7-4) and Estudiantes Tecos (4-7-4)
Out: Gallos Blancos (4-8-3), Necaxa (3-7-5) and Jaguares (3-10-2)
Pumas, Tigres and Morelia claimed their spots during last week's “doble jornada.” Pumas, on top of the overall table most of the Clausura campaign, can clinch the No. 1 seed -- rarely a winner in Mexico's playoffs -- with a win Friday night at Necaxa and Tigres' failure to win Sunday at Morelia in one of the two major showdowns this weekend.
The other big matchup pits Guadalajara, looking like a real contender the past month, against Cruz Azul in Mexico City. Chivas is fourth and Cruz Azul fifth, both with 24 points, and neither is likely to miss the postseason.
But the Cementeros are skidding. They've lost three of four, with losses to Santos, Morelia and Puebla, after challenging for the top spot most of the season. The 3-0 rout of Monterrey, which is falling at a quicker pace, might prove to be Cruz Azul's savior.
Monterrey is winless in its last four league games, its focus blurred by its CONCACAF Champions League title-series run and its game slowed by injuries to key players. A longtime shoulder ailment has prevented star Chilean forward Humberto Suazo from contributing the way he needs to, and forward Aldo de Nigris and midfielder Luis Perez, both Mexican national-teamers, will be out for three to four weeks with thigh injuries.
The Rayados have dipped to seventh, a point behind surging Group 2 leader Atlante, which is 4-1-1 in its last six games (but will be without suspended manager Miguel Herrera for the next three), and even on points with eighth-place America, which has lost three of its last five, to Cruz Azul, Monterrey and Guadalajara.
Santos, which lost to Monterrey in the Apertura final, is making a late charge after spending most of the season near the bottom of the standings. The Guerreros have followed a five-game losing streak with wins over Cruz Azul, Puebla and Guadalajara and a draw with Monterrey. They ended Chivas' four-game winning streak last weekend with a 1-0 victory as Felipe Baloy scored in stoppage.
IT'S OVER: Necaxa's at-times valiant fight to remain in Mexico's top league has failed. The Rayos, promoted last year from the Liga de Ascenso, is headed back to the second tier after clinching the bottom spot on the percentage table, a points-per-game-over-three-years mechanism designed to keep the Americas, Guadalajaras and Cruz Azuls of the game in the top flight even if they have one disastrous campaign.
Necaxa has gone 7-16-9 through last fall's Apertura and the current Clausura, finishing 15th overall in the season's first championship and sitting 17th in this one. Their hot spell right after Sergio Bueno was brought on as manager, with three straight wins in February, has been followed by a seven-game winless skid that brought down the doom.
Club Tijuana or the Liga de Ascenso's Clausura champion will replace Necaxa. Tijuana, which won the Apertura, would advance automatically with another title next month. If not, it meets the Clausura winner in a two-leg playoff for promotion.
COPA CALL: America and Jaguares snared round-of-16 berths in the Copa Libertadores, but San Luis was left out.
America won Group 3 with a scoreless draw at Uruguayan club Nacional and will meet Brazil's Santos in the first round of the knockout stage. Waiting, probably, in the quarterfinals: top seed Cruzeiro, also from Brazil.
Jaguares got through Group 6 to a matchup with Colombia's Junior despite a 2-1 loss at Jorge Wilstermann, the Bolivians' first group-stage victory. San Luis would have needed to upset first-place Libertad, from Paraguay, to advance from Group 1 but fell, 2-0.
Five of the six Brazilian entrants reached the final 16, and Cruzeiro and defending champion Internacional are on target for a title-series showdown. Argentina sent just two of its five Copa clubs to the knockout stage -- Velez Sarsfield and 2009 champ Estudiantes de La Plata -- and both are lower seeds in their round-of-16 matchups.
Monterrey opened the CONCACAF Champions League title series on a poor note, giving up an 89th-minute equalizer to Real Salt Lake -- a beauty of a strike by Javier Morales. They'll head to Sandy, Utah, for next week's second leg at 2-2 aggregate, which means the Major League Soccer powerhouse has two away goals, the first tiebreaker in the teams finish even. RSL is unbeaten in its past 34 matches at Rio Tinto Stadium.
AMERICANS ABROAD: Former Galaxy star Herculez Gomez struck for the third time in two games in Pachuca's loss to Tigres and was rewarded with a start against Atlas. The Tuzos lost both to all but end their playoff hopes. Jose Francisco Torres was in the lineup vs. Atlas, too. … Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein, the former Chivas USA captain, saw limited minutes for Tigres against Pachuca. … Sonny Guadarrama netted his second goal since joining Merida in the Liga de Ascenso. … Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce, just back from injury, played 90 at left back in both of Guadalajara games last week. … Also picking up starts: Calexico's Isaac Acuña (Gallos Blancos), Edgar Castillo (Puebla) and Marco Vidal (Leon). San Diego's Joe Corona (Club Tijuana) was a second-half sub.
ETC.: Tigres and Santos were the only clubs to win both of their games in the “doble jornada.” Hector Mancilla scored twice and assisted a third in Tigres' 4-2 triumph over Pachuca. Daniel Ludueña had two in Santos' 4-0 pummeling of Puebla. … Former Chivas USA forward Eduardo Lillingston's 89th-minute header gave Estudiantes Tecos a 2-2 draw at Necaxa. … Morelia rallied to tie Monterrey on Luis Gabriel Rey's stoppage-time penalty kick. … Late goals lifted Atlas (Alfredo Moreno, 87th minute) past Pachuca and gave Toluca (Raul Nava, 90th) a 2-1 win at San Luis, which hasn't won in its last nine games.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: Irapuato, Leon, Club Tijuana and Atlante Neza clinched playoff berths last week, the first three with victories and Neza while idle. Seven clubs are alive in the chase for the final three postseason spots as the regular season heads into its final weekend, and Dorados and Veracruz likely will take two of them.
Irapuato (10-2-3) and Leon (9-2-4) face off Saturday for the No. 1 spot and a quarterfinal bye. La Trinca, with a two-point edge, need only a draw.
Tijuana (7-3-5) closes at Veracruz, the team it beat in the Apertura final, and if the top seven don't change order, they'll face off again in the quarterfinals.
Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Morelia 2 (Marquez Lugo 84, Baltazar 87), Jaguares 1 (Sanchez Guerrero 66)
Santos Laguna 4 (Ludueña 16, 35, C. Benitez 59, J. Toledo 66), Puebla 0
Toluca 1 (Cerda 15), Guadalajara 2 (de la Mora 12, X. Baez 67)
Necaxa 2 (Quatrocchi 26, C. Suarez pen. 66), Estudiantes Tecos 2 (I. Lopez 76, Lillingston 89)
Gallos Blancos 1 (C. Bueno pen. 85), Atlante 4 (A. Diego 19, M. Ortiz 21, C. Bermudez 28, Amione 63)
Cruz Azul 3 (C. Gimenez 27, 68, E. Villa 71)
UANL Tigres 4 (H. Mancilla 43, 58, Lobos 70, Pulido 89), Pachuca 2 (Arizala 38, H. Gomez 90)
Atlas 0, Pumas UNAM 0
Jaguares 0, UANL Tigres 1 (D. Alvarez 78)
Morelia at Monterrey, 5 p.m.
Guadalajara 0, Santos Laguna 1 (Baloy 92+)
Pachuca 1 (Anchico 8), Atlas 2 (A. Moreno 71, 87)
Puebla 2 (F. Borja 27, W. Jimenez 45), Cruz Azul 0
Atlante 1 (C. Bermudez pen. 75), Necaxa 1 (J. Ledesma 20)
San Luis 1 (S. Ponce 85), Toluca 2 (M. de la Torre 81, R. Nava 90)
Pumas UNAM 3 (Palencia 10, 19, D. Lopez 44), Gallos Blancos 0
Estudiantes Tecos 1 (Pantoja 40), America 3 (D. Reyes 49, A. Reyna 59, 85)
Standings (x - clinched playoff berth)
Group 1: x-UANL Tigres 29 points, Guadalajara 24, Monterrey 22, Santos Laguna 20, Estudiantes Tecos 16, Necaxa 14
Group 2: Atlante 23, America 22, Toluca 20, Atlas 20, San Luis 17, Pachuca 16
Group 3: x-Pumas UNAM 32, x-Morelia 28, Cruz Azul 24, Puebla 17, Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 15, Jaguares de Chiapas 11
Overall (top 8): 1. x-Pumas UNAM 32 (+15 goal differential); 2. x-UANL Tigres 29 (+11); 3. x-Morelia 28 (+9); 4. Guadalajara 24 (+9); 5. Cruz Azul 24 (+5); 6. Atlante 23 (+10); 7. Monterrey 22 (+2); 8. America 22 (+1). Playoffs: If season ended now, top eight would qualify.
Relegation percentage: 1. Necaxa (32 games/30 points) 0.9375 (relegated to Liga de Ascenso)
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Pumas UNAM at Necaxa, 6:10 p.m.
Pachuca at Gallos Blancos, 3 p.m.
Guadalajara at Cruz Azul, 3 p.m.
Puebla at Monterrey, 5 p.m.
San Luis at Santos Laguna, 5 p.m.
Jaguares at Atlas, 6:45 p.m.
Estudiantes Tecos at Toluca, 10 a.m.
UANL Tigres at Morelia, 10 a.m.
Atlante at America, 3 p.m.
Schedule subject to change
1. Angel Reyna (America) 11
2. Christian Bermudez (Atlante) 9
Rafael Marquez Lugo (Morelia) 9
4. Hector Mancilla (UANL Tigres) 8
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 8
6. Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis) 7
Carlos Bueno (Gallos Blancos) 7
8. Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 6
Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 6
Erick Torres (Guadalajara) 6
1. Christian Benitez (Santos) 20
2. Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 19
3. Matias Vuoso (America) 15
4. Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul) 14
5. Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 13
Hector Mancilla (Toluca/UANL Tigres) 13
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 13
8. Angel Reyna (America) 12
9. Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 11
Marco Fabian de la Mora (Guadalajara) 11
Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey) 11
Hector Mancilla (Toluca/UANL Tigres) 11
Rafael Marquez Lugo (Morelia) 11
Miguel Sabah (Morelia) 11
CONCACAF Champions League
Final, first leg: Monterrey 2 (de Nigris 18, Suazo pen. 63), Real Salt Lake (MLS) 2 (Borchers 35, J. Morales 89)
Final, second leg: Monterrey at Real Salt Lake (MLS), 7 p.m.
Final Standings (q - advances to round of 16)
Group 1: q-Libertad (Paraguay) 14 points, q-Once Caldas (Colombia) 7, Universidad San Martin (Peru) 6, San Luis 5
Group 3: q-America 10, q-Fluminense (Brazil) 8, Nacional (Uruguay) 8, Argentinos Juniors (Argentina) 7
Group 6: q-Internacional (Brazil) 13, q-Jaguares 9, Emelec (Ecuador) 8, Jorge Wilstermann (Bolivia) 4
Group 1: Libertad (Paraguay) 2 (J. Gonzalez 10, Pavlovich 16), San Luis 0
Group 6: Jorge Wilstermann (Bolivia) 2 (Mineiro 76, N. Torres 81), Jaguares 1 (F. Torres 7)
Group 3: Nacional (Uruguay) 0, America 0
Round of 16
Quadrant 1: Cruzeiro (Brazil) vs. Once Caldas (Colombia), America (Mexico) vs. Santos (Brazil)
Quadrant 2: Junior (Colombia) vs. Jaguares (Mexico), Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) vs. Estudiantes de La Plata (Argentina)
Quadrant 3: Libertad (Paraguay) vs. Fluminense (Brazil), LDU Quito (Ecuador) vs. Velez Sarsfield (Argentina)
Quadrant 4: Internacional (Brazil) vs. Peñarol (Uruguay), Universidad Catolica (Chile) vs. Gremio (Brazil)
Next week's games
Wednesday: Junior at Jaguares, 6:30 p.m.; America at Santos, 9 p.m.
LIGA DE ASCENSO
Past week's games (home teams listed first)
Altamira 1 (Saldivar 87), Irapuato 2 (E. Gonzalez 21, Favela 93+)
Leones Negros 2 (Folle 63, M. Jimenez 93+), La Piedad 2 (Ma. Castillo 47, 49)
Albinegros de Orizaba 1 (D. Gonzalez 55), Veracruz 1 (Maz 84)
Alacranes de Durango 2 (E. Garcia 63, 82), Lobos BUAP 4 (Metlich 20, Mi. Castillo 78, Sara 64, 93+)
Merida 2 (K. Zapata 16, Guadarrama 78), Correcaminos 0
Dorados de Sinaloa 1 (R. Prieto 40), Cruz Azul Hidalgo 0
Leon 3 (H. Jimenez 9, L. Delgado 54, E. Cruz 81), Pumas Morelos 2 (E. Herrera 69, A. Rodriguez 88)
Club Tijuana 2 (Gerk 52, A. Moreno 93+), Indios de Ciudad Juarez 1 (E. Hernandez 67)
Idle: Atlante Neza
Standings (x -- clinched playoff berth)
1. x-Irapuato 33 points; 2. x-Leon 31; 3. x-Club Tijuana 26; 4. x-Atlante Neza 26; 5. Dorados de Sinaloa 24; 6. Veracruz 23; 7. Cruz Azul Hidalgo 21; 8. UAT Correcaminos 21; 9. Pumas Morelos 19; 10. Albinegros de Orizaba 18; 11. Altamira 18; 12. Indios de Ciudad Juarez 17; 13. Merida 16; 14. La Piedad 15; 15. U de G Leones Negros 14; 16. Alacranes de Durango 12; 17. Lobos BUAP 12
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Alacranes de Durango at Correcaminos, 6:30 p.m.
Dorados de Sinaloa at Pumas Morelos, 2 p.m.
Leon at Irapuato, 5 p.m.
Club Tijuana at Veracruz, 5 p.m.
Leones Negros at Indios de Ciudad Juarez, 6 p.m.
Altamira at Atlante Neza, 10 a.m.
Merida at Cruz Azul Hidalgo, 10 a.m.
Albinegros de Orizaba at Lobos BUAP, 10 a.m.
Idle: La Piedad
Schedule subject to change
1. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 12
Blas Perez (Leon) 12
3. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 10
4. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 9
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 9
6. Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 7
7. Raul Enriquez (Club Tijuana) 6
Miler Castillo (Lobos BUAP) 6
Edgar Garcia (Alacranes de Durango) 6
Rodrigo Prieto (Dorados de Sinaloa) 6
1. Eder Pacheco (Alacranes/Veracruz) 21
Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 21
3. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 18
4. Blas Perez (Leon) 17
5. Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 14
6. Raul Enrique (Club Tijuana) 13
Roberto Nurse (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 13
8. Miguel Zepeda (Leones Negros) 12
9. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 11
10. Miler Castillo (Lobos BUAP) 10
Juan Manuel Cavallo (Albinegros) 10
Nelson Maz (Veracruz) 10
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 10