Liga MX: America moves into first as Cruz Azul fade continues

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 20: Diego Lainez (C) of America celebrates a scored goal with his teammates during the 13th round match between America and Tijuana as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on October 20, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 20: Diego Lainez (C) of America celebrates a scored goal with his teammates during the 13th round match between America and Tijuana as part of the Torneo Apertura 2018 Liga MX at Azteca Stadium on October 20, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

There’s a new team atop the Liga MX leader board as America leapfrogged Cruz Azul ahead of their showdown next weekend at Estadio Azteca.

America dominated Tijuana 3-0 while Cruz Azul fell 2-0 at Querétaro when the Gallos Blancos scored twice in the final three minutes to knock the Cementeros out of first place.

The Águilas got an early goal on a free kick from defender Emanuel Aguilera and basically cruised to victory from there, with Andrés Ibarguen and teenager Diego Lainez adding their own. Lainez appeared in his first match since Sept. 15, missing more than a month after he was injured in practice by teammate Bruno Valdez.

Coach Miguel Herrera shook up his line-up, replacing skipper Oribe Peralta with Lainez and opting for a single striker up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Águilas appeared quicker and slicker, especially transitioning into attack though it didn’t show up in the stats (14 shots, but only 5 on goal).

Cruz Azul lost for the second time in three games and all three league losses have come in their past five matches. Once again, the problem was in front of net as the Cementeros could not generate good scoring chances.

Elías Hernández showed more energy on the flank, offering a glimpse of his early-season form when he was Cruz Azul’s sparkplug. But Roberto Alvarado seems to have regressed, delivering a very poor performance, while forwards Martín Cauteruccio and Edgar Méndez were extremely ineffective.

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Cruz Azul must now face a surging America – the league’s top-scoring team – with the realization that a loss next week could see them sink into 5th place in the standings. While the Cementeros have been the league’s best home team (7-0-0, 16 goals for, 2 goals against), America also calls Estadio Azteca home so there won’t be a clear-cut advantage for the Cementeros.

Before next Saturday’s “Junior Classic” at Estadio Azteca, Cruz Azul will host León in a Copa MX semifinal on Wednesday.

Pachuca 1, Santos 1

The most entertaining game of the weekend so far saw league-leading scorer Julio Furch head home the tying goal for Santos in minute 85 as, once again, Pachuca saw points in hand disappear.

The Tuzos scored in minute 3 when Víctor Guzmán hustled around Jesús Angulo to head home a cross from Manny García, but missed chances to extend the lead before the half. Coach Pako Ayestarán switched the Tuzos to a 5-man backline for the second half (partly due to an injury to fullback Garciá) and it took a while for the three central defenders to share space.

Eventually the three back-liners found their comfort zone and helped produce breakout opportunities (often led by Erick Aguirre and Guzmán) but it was the failure to mark Furch that cost them 2 points.

José Abella had the ball at his feet about 40 meters out left of goal with space and he double-clutched as two Santos forwards raced from left-to-right across the top of the box and all 3 central defenders gave chase. This left Furch all alone inside the box at the far post and Abella found him with a perfectly weighted cross and Furch powered home for the tie.

Tuzos striker Leo Ulloa missed several clear chances before Furch’s goal, including one perfect drop pass from Aguirre that would have sent him in alone on goal, but he had stopped running.

In their last match, the Tuzos squandered a 55-minute man advantage against Toluca, losing on a late goal (in the 85th minute, again). These dropped points might cost Pachuca a spot in the playoffs. However, the Tuzos are still alive in the Copa MX and they host Monterrey in a Tuesday night semifinal.

Necaxa 0, León 2

León coach Ignacio Ambriz continues to exact revenge against the club that fired him over the summer. Ambriz – a Necaxa legend as a player and captain – coached the Rayos to the Copa MX title last season but an 11th place finish in the league cost him his job.

León hired him a month ago and, in his second game in charge, his new team knocked the defending champs out of the Copa MX on a 2-0 scoreline. They doubled his pleasure Saturday night with a relatively easy 2-0 win again that keeps alive the Esmeraldas’ playoff hopes and keeps Necaxa in the bottom third of the table.

Mauro Boselli converted a penalty kick in minute 7 and Luis Montes salted the game away with a wonderful finish on a fast break in minute 69.


Atlas 4, Veracruz 3

This game pitting the worst and second-worst teams in the league was notable for being the first match in which video replay was used in an official Liga MX game… and used it was.

Video officials made history in minute 10 by buzzing down to ref Adonai Escobedo after he ruled a corner kick following a clash in the corner of the box. Escobedo looked at the video and ruled a penalty, admittedly a weak call, but acceptable. Atlas – already trailing 1-0 – missed the ensuing penalty kick but minutes later Escobedo whistled another infraction in the box and this time Atlas converted.

In minute 32, video replay officials buzzed down to Escobedo again after they had spotted a hand ball in the area by Atlas defender Leiton Jiménez. The ref viewed the replay and agreed after which Veracruz scored from the spot to take a 2-1 lead.

The team’s traded headed goals after that with Cristián Menéndez scoring to equalize at 3-3 in minute 82, before Atlas defender Omar González (the culprit on Menéndez’s goal) headed home from a corner kick in minute 90+1.

Atlas’s anemic offense had only scored 3 goals all season but facing the league’s worst defense (29 goals allowed in 13 games) seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. Veracruz now suffers serious relegation issues.