The best team in Mexican soccer this year, even without a trophy to show for it, has been UANL Tigres, which under Brazilian coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has conceded just 18 goals while posting a 16-3-11 mark in regular-season action since the Primera Division's Clausura kickoff last January.
The club from suburban Monterrey is back atop the Apertura after crushing previous leader Pumas UNAM on the weekend, scoring four first-half goals en route to a 4-1 decision.
Tigres (5-1-6) is even on points with Cruz Azul (6-3-3), which was denied two should-be penalty kicks before Javier Orozco netted two second-half goals in a 2-0 win over Puebla.
Jaguares (5-3-4), which was ahead two weeks ago, fell from second to sixth with a 1-0 loss at Pachuca (6-4-2), which climbed to fourth, just one point off the lead, after its third win (with a tie) in four games since the 5-0 disaster Sept. 10 at Tigres.
Santos (6-3-2), still with a game in hand over everybody except Morelia, and Pumas (6-4-2) also are two points back.
The biggest surge forward this week was made by Monterrey (5-5-2), which won in league for the first time since August -- early goals from Neri Cardozo and Dario Carreño starting the Rayados toward a 3-2 victory at Estudiantes Tecos -- to jump from 13th to eighth, into the playoff zone.
THE TOP 3
1. WHITHER JOHNNY B.?
Local hero Jonathan Bornstein's time in his mother's native land isn't going as planned. He's an afterthought at Tigres -- and given the club's success, who can say Ferretti is wrong -- with not one minute of league time since the Apertura began in July.
Bornstein (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS and UCLA), the former Chivas USA captain, has made Tigres' 18-player game roster just once, at the end of August, and has seen action only in three games with the club's under-20 side.
“It's definitely frustrating,” he told Major League Soccer's website. “I keep plugging away in training and doing the work, and, hopefully, when the times comes, I'll get the opportunity.”
Bornstein, 26, whom Tigres has turned into a defensive midfielder, played in seven of 19 games during the spring Clausura, starting in four of the first six. He has two years remaining on his contract, and his Major League Soccer rights are held by the Portland Timbers, who grabbed them in last fall's expansion draft.
He'd like to stay in Mexico, whether with Tigres or elsewhere.
“Obviously, I want to play, so whatever it takes to get me to play I need to consider,” he said. “If that means going on loan somewhere, I think I'd be open to it if it meant that I was going to get on the field. ...
“Another team in Mexico would be a good option. I was hoping to break into the league a little bit more. I think it's a good goal to stay here and prove myself, not just to the team, but also for myself to kind of come out in the league and build a name for myself down here.”
2. ANOTHER XOLOS STUMBLE
Club Tijuana's woes continued in Guadalajara, where another questionable penalty kick cost it a needed victory.
The Xolos (1-5-6) were seconds from their first win since Aug. 6 when referee Juan Medrano awarded Atlas a stoppage-time spot kick after a 50-50 ball in the box. It was a joke of a call and left Tijuana, with just nine points in 12 games, reeling as it fights to avoid relegation back to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso.
Jose Sand's header and Mauro Gerk's redirection of Fernando Arce's blast had enabled the Dogs to overcome a deficit, and wins against the likes of Atlas -- the worst team in the Apertura, with a 1-7-4 mark -- are vital for survival.
New technical director Antonio Mohamed said beforehand he wanted the Xolos to claim 10 of 18 points available in the final six games. They got just one in Guadalajara and will need to win three times in five games against Pachuca, Atlante, Jaguares, San Luis and Pumas to reach the goal. The quintet's cumulative record is 26-21-13.
“The team is so down about not winning, it's pulling us apart,” San Diego's Joe Corona told Medio Tiempo, a Mexican sports website. “We're not thinking about the opponent, but on what we must do to win. We know we have to win.”
The return of leading scorer Dayro Moreno from injury, but backline leader Javier Gandolfi and midfielder Arce will be suspended for Sunday's game at Estadio Caliente against Pachuca.
3. GAMES IN GUADALAJARA
Lots of pressure on Mexico to win the Pan American Games gold medal, especially with the talent and experience on its roster -- and with the quadrennial event slated for Guadalajara.
El Tri U-23 coach Luis Fernando Tena, whose assignments over the years have included stints in charge of Americz, Cruz Azul, Morelia, Santos, Tecos and Jaguares, hopes it can be so. He's had virtually no time to prepare the squad, and with the competition beginning Oct. 19 -- opening ceremonies are Friday -- he's had only 14 the 18 players in camp.
The group includes Sacramento-born/Tijuana-raised/San Ysidro-schooled defender Miguel Angel Ponce, Guadalajara's left back, and rising Mexican national-teamer Oribe Peralta, the Santos striker who will join the group after Tuesday night's Mexico-Brazil game in Torreon.
The full Mexico roster:
Goalkeepers: Jose de Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Jose Antonio Rodriguez (Veracruz).
Defenders: Nestor Araujo (Cruz Azul), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Darvin Chavez (Monterrey), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Carlos Orrantia (Pumas UNAM), Miguel Angel Ponce (Guadalajara), Hugo Isaac Rodriguez (Atlas).
Midfielders: Javier Aquino (Cruz Azul), Ricardo Bocanegra (Atlas), Jorge Enriquez (Guadalajara), Cesar Ibañez (Santos Laguna), Diego Reyes (America), Jesus Zavala (Monterrey).
Forwards: Othoniel Arce (San Luis), Jeronimo Amione (Atlante), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna).
The three overage players are Corona, 30, Peralta, 27, and Zavala, 24.
Former Galaxy standout Herculez Gomez has scored in three straight appearances for Estudiantes Tecos and has five Apertura goals. ... Guadalajara outplayed Toluca in new technical director Fernando Quirarte's debut but settled for a 0-0 draw to fall to seventh. ... America's winless streak hit seven with a 1-1 draw against Morelia, claimed on Juan Carlos Valenzuela's 84th-minute header. ... Texan Sonny Guadarrama, who can't crack Atlante's lineup and has expressed interest in MLS, has been farmed out to nearby Liga de Ascenso side Merida. He scored the first goal in the Venados' 3-0 romp over Celaya, their first victory of the season. ... Former Chivas USA forward Roberto Nurse scored his seventh goal for La Piedad, which opened a five-point lead with a 1-0 win over Necaxa. Leon is second, with Necaxa dropping into third. ... Ismael Valadez leads the Liga with eight goals after netting a pair as Altamira twice rallied from two-goal deficits in a 4-4 draw. Valadez's 86th-minute penalty kick and Ruben Garcia's stoppage-time strike provided the final comeback.
Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Estudiantes Tecos 2 (E. Rangel 68, H. Gomez 95+), Monterrey 1 (N. Cardozo 10, Carreño 22)
Cruz Azul 2 (J. Orozco 73, 89), Puebla 0
Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 1 (R. Vazquez pen. 25), Santos Laguna 3 (C. Quintero 7, O. Peralta 8, C. Morales 63)
UANL Tigres 4 (L. Lobos 18, Juninho 28, H. Mancilla 36, Viniegra 39), Pumas UNAM 1 (E. Herrera 82)
Pachuca 1 (E. Hernandez 7), Jaguares 0
Atlas 2 (R. Jimenez 49, Flavio Santos pen. 93+), Club Tijuana 2 (Sand 66, Gerk 81)
Atlante 1 (J. Cuevas 82), San Luis 1 (O. Arce 47)
Toluca 0, Guadalajara 0
America 1 (J. Valenzuela 84), Morelia 1 (Sabah 11)
Standings: 1. UANL Tigres 21; 2. Cruz Azul 21; 3. Santos Laguna 20; 4. Pachuca 20; 5. Pumas UNAM 20; 6. Jaguares 19; 7. Guadalajara 18; 8. Monterrey 17; 9. Gallos Blancos 17; 10. San Luis 16; 11. Atlante 16; 12. Toluca 16; 13. Estudiantes Tecos 15; 14. Morelia 14; 15. Puebla 13; 16. America 11; 17. Tijuana 9; 18. Atlas 7
Relegation percentage: 1. Tijuana (12 games/9 points) 0.7500; 2. Atlas (80/85) 1.0625; 3. Estudiantes Tecos (80/86) 1.0750; 4. Gallos Blancos (80/91) 1.1375; 5. Puebla (80/95) 1.1875; 6. Jaguares (80/96) 1.2000; 7. Atlante and San Luis (80/98) 1.2250. Atop the list: 1. Cruz Azul (80/144) 1.8000; 2. Monterrey (80/141) 1.7625; 3. Santos (79/128) 1.6203; 4. Morelia (79/124) 1.5696; 5. Pumas UNAM (80/125) 1.5625; 6. Toluca (80/124) 1.5500
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Tigres at Morelia, 6:10 p.m.
America at Monterrey, 3 p.m.
Atlante at Jaguares, 3 p.m.
Toluca at Santos, 5 p.m.
Estudiantes Tecos at Guadalajara, 5 p.m.
Cruz Azul at San Luis, 7 p.m.
Gallos Blancos at Puebla, 10 a.m.
Atlas at Pumas, 10 a.m.
Pachuca at Tijuana, 2 p.m.
Schedule subject to change
1. Carlos Bueno (Gallos Blancos) 8
2. Ivan Alonso (Toluca) 7
Christian Benitez (America) 7
Hector Mancilla (UANL Tigres) 7
Oribe Peralta (Santos) 7
Luis Gabriel Rey (Jaguares) 7
7. Herculez Gomez (Estudiantes Tecos) 5
Dayro Moreno (Tijuana) 5
Luis Perez (Monterrey) 5
Miguel Sabah (Morelia) 5
LIGA DE ASCENSO
Last week's results (home teams listed first)
Lobos BUAP 1 (Tehuitzil 84), Leones Negros 0
Altamira 4 (Valadez 58, pen. 86, Otero 73, R. Garcia 92+), Correcaminos 4 (Olsina 38, Menghi 56, og C. Rojas 75, R. Torres 79)
Necaxa 0, La Piedad 1 (Nurse 79)
Merida 3 (Guadarrama 18, D. Jimenez 20, E. Guzman 61), Celaya 0
Dorados de Sinaloa 1 (J. Castro 14), Cruz Azul Hidalgo 1 (R. Gutierrez 70)
Indios de Ciudad Juarez 1 (Mañon 22), Irapuato 2 (Cruz Gutierrez 66, C. Pinto 87)
Leon 3 (Maz 18, E. Cruz 24, J. Benitez 84), Veracruz 0
Toros Neza 1 (B. Sainz 16), Pumas Morelos 1 (A. Rodriguez 80)
Standings: 1. La Piedad 22; 2. Leon 17; 3. Necaxa 17; 4. Irapuato 16; 5. Correcaminos 16; 6. Toros Neza 16; 7. Pumas Morelos 16; 8. Altamira 14; 9. Veracruz 14; 10. Leones Negros 13; 11. Celaya 12; 12. Dorados de Sinaloa 10; 13. Lobos BUAP 10; 14. Indios de Ciudad Juarez 8; 15. Cruz Azul Hidalgo 8; 16. Merida 6
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Dorados at Altamira, 5 p.m.
Leones Negros at Correcaminos, 6:30 p.m.
Lobos at Pumas Morelos, 2 p.m.
Toros Neza at Irapuato, 5 p.m.
Necaxa at Veracruz, 5 p.m.
Leon at Celaya, 6:30 p.m.
Indios at La Piedad, 10 a.m.
Merida at Cruz Azul Hidalgo, 10 a.m.
Schedule subject to change
1. Ismael Valadez (Altamira) 8
2. Jose Cruz Gutierrez (Irapuato) 7
Roberto Nurse (La Piedad) 7
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 7
Pablo Torres (Dorados) 7
6. Luciano Emilio (Toros Neza/Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 6
Diego Olsina (Correcaminos) 6
8. Eder Pacheco (Leon) 5
Ever Guzman (Merida) 5
Victor Mañon (Indios) 5
Nelson Maz (Leon) 5
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Upcoming games (all times Pacific)
Group Stage, Round 6
Tuesday, Oct. 18
A: Alajuelense (Costa Rica) at Morelia, 5 p.m.
D: Monterrey at Seattle Sounders, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 19
B: Colorado Rapids at Santos Laguna, 5 p.m.
C: Tauro (Panama) at Pumas UNAM, 7 p.m.
A: 1. Alajuelense (Costa Rica) 12 points; 2. Morelia 9; 3. Galaxy 9; 4. Motagua (Honduras) 0
B: 1. x-Santos Laguna 10; 2. Colorado Rapids 7; 3. Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) 6; 4. Real España (Honduras) 4
C: 1. Pumas UNAM 8; 2. FC Dallas 7; 3. Toronto FC 7; 4. Tauro (Panama) 5
D: 1. x-Seattle Sounders 10; 2. Monterrey 9; 3. Comunicaciones (Guatemala) 7; 4. Herediano (Costa Rica) 3
x -- advances to quarterfinals