Liga MX: Necaxa stuns unbeaten Cruz Azul; Monterrey stumbles

AGUASCALIENTES, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 15: Matias Fernandez of Necaxa celebrates after the first goal of his team during the 9th round match between Necaxa and Cruz Azul as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Victoria Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
AGUASCALIENTES, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 15: Matias Fernandez of Necaxa celebrates after the first goal of his team during the 9th round match between Necaxa and Cruz Azul as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Victoria Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Matchday 9 provided plenty of surprises – the top two teams suffered upset losses – although when the dust had settled on Sunday night, the same 8 teams were in playoff position as when the weekend began.

League-leading Cruz Azul is no longer unbeaten, the Pumas leapfrogged América into second place and underachieving Monterrey will limp into next Saturday’s Clásico Regio after being spanked at home by the Chivas.

Necaxa 2, Cruz Azul 0

Cruz Azul entered the weekend needing only 6 points to clinch a playoff spot and they left Aguascalientes still needing 6 points. Necaxa ended its 5-game winless streak with an impressive performance handing the Cementeros their first loss of the season while holding the league leaders scoreless for the first time in Apertura 2018.

Midfield general Mati Fernández opened the scoring in minute 18, slotting home a free kick from 23 meters with a firm right-footer that went UNDER the defensive wall. Mati simply aimed for the near post – Cementero goalie Jesús Corona was guarding the far post – and shot low as the defenders leaped.

The Necaxa defense held together despite coming into the game as the league’s second-worst. Milton Caraglio grazed the post in minute 25 and Rayos goalie Hugo González was called on to make only 1 difficult save and that came in minute 93. Central defenders Ventura Alvarado and Luis Hernández were strong in front of Gonález, the 20-year-old Hernández clearing out a dangerous cutback pass in minute 78 that would have tied the score.

Víctor Dávila was taken down inside the box by Rafa Baca in minute 85 then stepped up and cooly converted the resulting penalty to clinch the victory.

Monterrey 2, Chivas 4

The Rayados had held onto second place for several weeks despite playing insipid soccer with one of the league’s most-expensive rosters. The visiting Chivas took advantage of the ongoing Monterrey malaise to overturn a 2-1 deficit and climb back into playoff contention.

The first half was a disaster for the Rayados. In minute 7, starting forward Avilés Hurtado limped off with an injury and, less than 30 minutes later, his replacement Jonathan Urretavizcaya was carted off with a knee injury. This disrupted the Monterrey tactics in attack although winger Dorlan Pabón wreaked havoc throughout the game on the right flank.

Just before halftime, the Rayados fell asleep on a throw-in and Chivas defender José Carlos Van Rankin made them pay, banging home a loose ball from right in front of net in minute 44.

Monterrey equalized 5 minutes after the restart when Chivas defender Edwin Hernández and goalie Raúl Gudiño failed to communicate and Pabón tapped home after the ball squirted between the Guadalajara teammates. Stefan Medina gave the Rayados the lead in minute 66, but the joy was short-lived as Hedgardo Marín knotted things up 2 minutes later.

Walter Sandoval and Alan Cervantes then scored 8 minutes apart to stun the home team, knocking the Rayados into 6th place. The Rayados outshot Guadalajara 21 to 11, but only got 8 shots on goal as Jair Perreira and Marín stayed on top of Monterrey striker Luis Madrigal and Rayados midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro was unable to do damage against his former team.

Monterrey must now recover physically and psychologically before facing cross-town rivals Tigres in the Clásico Regio next Saturday.

Pachuca 1, Tigres 1

Pachuca remains unbeaten in its past 6 games, but should have claimed all three points at home against the favored Tigres. Franco Jara nodded home a beautiful cross from Pablo López in minute 30, but the home team got caught out by a Tigres counter, then over-pursued and Lucas Zelarayán made them pay.

Jara notched his 4th goal of the season by shaking Juninho on his front side and drifting toward the center of the box as López lofted a perfect pass for him to head home inside the far post.

The Tigres – playing without the injured winger Javier Aquino – knotted the score in minute 81 when André-Pierre Gignac chased a lead pass to the touchline to left of goal, then dropped a pass back to Zelarayán who patiently dribbled left to right across the top of the penalty box, stepping past two retreating Tuzos defenders. His right-footed blast from 18 meters zipped past the outstretched right hand of Alfonso Blanco who perhaps could have done better.

The Tigres almost stole the points a few minutes later but Zelarayán squandered a sitter.

América 2, Morelia 1

The Águilas cruised to victory two lovely goals and smothering defense.

In minute 29, left fullback Jorge Eduardo Sánchez snuck forward and intercepted a lazy cross-field pass, dribbled forward than ripped a laser from 30 meters into the upper right corner of the net.

Nine minutes after the second-half restart, Henry Martín gathered in a headman pass, paused at the left top corner of the penalty box, then squared a beautiful ball into the path of onrushing midfielder Mateus Uribe and he calmly slotted home for the 2-0 lead.

América did not maintain possession for great lengths, but when they had the ball, they generally produced a scoring threat. Cecilio Domínguez and Andrés Ibraguen were particularly effective.

But it was their disciplined defense that shut down the Monarcas, allowing only 3 shots all game and only 1 shot on goal. Unfortunately that shot went into the net in minute 83 when Guido Rodríguez was left at the back post trying to guard two Morelia players and Sebastián Vegas headed home a long cross from Diego Valdés.

Morelia was unable to find the equalizer and the Águilas moved into 3rd place with the win. Morelia lost for the second straight time and tumbled into 12th place after reaching as high as 4th heading into Matchday 7.

Santos 3, León 0

Julio Furch scored twice to take over the goal-scoring lead and Jonathan Rodríguez banged home the first goal in minute 37 to lead Santos to an easy victory over visiting León.

Furch now has 7 goals in 8 matches (he missed a game due to injury) and is tied for the league lead with 4 assists.

While Furch, Rodríguez and Brian Lozano were buzzing around the Esmeraldas net, the Santos defense held León with a single shot on goal. The back line was formidable all game, but forward Ayrton Preciado had a hand in the glory too.

The Ecuadorian newcomer pressed and chased all over the field and made the steal that led to the opener. León goalie Rodolfo Cota threw an ill-advised outlet pass that the hustling Preciado headed back toward goal as the Esmeraldas defense was moving up field. Rodríguez patiently slalomed around four defenders from one side of the goal to the other before right-footing a low shot that went through Cota’s legs into the back of the net.

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UNAM 4, Lobos BUAP 2

Juan Iturbe scored in minute 66 and Pablo Barrera found the net 2 minutes later to break a 1-1 tie and send the Pumas into 2nd place with a harder-than-it-should-have-been win over relegation-threatened Lobos.

Veracruz 2, Toluca 3

For the second game in a row, Rubens Sambueza scored the winner for Toluca on a second-half penalty kick. Toluca – which climbed from 8th to 5th with the victory – struggled against lowly Veracruz.

The host Tiburones battled back from a 2-0 first-half deficit to even the score at the hour mark, momentarily enjoying momentum thanks to 57% possession. But the wily Sambueza controlled the ball into the penalty box, shielded the defense and drew the whistle when Veracruz defender Luis Caicedo unwisely tried to tackle him from behind.

Querétaro 0, Puebla 1

The host Gallos Blancos statistically dominated the match (65% possession and 23 shots to only 10 by Puebla) but could not find a way to get the ball on net. Vladimir Loroña headed home the only goal of the match in minute 49 when the 19-year-old defender rose above his marker on a corner kick and powered home the winner inside the near post.

The loss knocked Querétaro from 6th to 8th in the standings. Next week, the Gallos Blancos travel to Guadalajara while Puebla returns home to host América.

Atlas 0, Tijuana 1

Winless Atlas sank further into the cellar with another poor display. Despite controlling the ball (64% possession) and launching 21 shots, only 3 were on target. The visiting Xolos got an early goal from defender Luis Fuentes and just sat back and protected the lead for 76 minutes, earning their second consecutive 1-0 victory after a 6-game winless streak.