Mauro Quiroga leads Necaxa back into first place

Kevin Mercado leaps into Mauro Quiroga's arms after they teamed up for Necaxa's first goal in the team's 2-0 win over Atlas. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Kevin Mercado leaps into Mauro Quiroga's arms after they teamed up for Necaxa's first goal in the team's 2-0 win over Atlas. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

The big Argentine striker scored twice in the second half as the Rayos defeated Atlas in Estadio Jalisco.

Necaxa will go into its bye week in sole possession of first place after toughing out a 2-0 win at Atlas. League-leading scorer Mauro Quiroga netted both goals and sub Kevin Mercado was the supplier for each.

The match was marred at the very end by the appearance of the all-too-popular homophobic chant, forcing ref Fernando Guerreroa to momentarily halt the game with only seconds remaining.

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The Rayos came out with an aggressive press that disrupted Atlas possessions, but the visitors were hesitant and self-destructive on offense. About the 20-minute mark, Necaxa seemed to run out of gas and the Zorros – especially midfielder Osvaldo Martínez – began to take control of the match.

Atlas enjoyed some dominance (they finished the match with 60% possession) and started to push their lines forward, but Necaxa effectively cut off shooting lanes such that the Zorros only managed three shots on goal all game.

Necaxa sub plays key role

Rayos coach Memo Vázquez changed the game with a substitution in minute 63. He sent attacking midfielder Kevin Mercado on in place of right back Ricardo Chávez, changing the shape of the Rayos lines as midfielders Fernando Meza and Claudio Baeza shaded to the right to cover the vacant fullback position.

Necaxa moves into first place
Necaxa goalkeeper Hugo González celebrates after Mauro Quiroga’s first goal. González earned his sixth clean sheet of the season. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

In 10 minutes, the fate of the game had been reversed. Mercado got free down the left flank and scooped a lovely cross over the Atlas defense where Quiroga headed home unmolested. Just three minutes later, Mercado was at it again, sending a cross from the left flank over the defense where Quiroga volleyed home between the legs of Atlas keeper Camilo Vargas. Those were the 10th and 11th goals of the Apertura 2019 for Quiroga, moving him into first place, two in front of Santos striker Julio Furch.

Atlas sought to fight back, frantically sending extra men forward but Rayos goalie Hugo González was up to the task.

A few minutes into injury time, Zorros fans expressed their frustration by letting loose with the first audible shout of “Eeeeeh puto!” as González took a free kick. Ref Guerrero ignored it as announcers pointed out that Liga MX officials had announced that this weekend would be the first time that steps would be taken on the field to discourage the reprehensible “cheer.”

When the fans shouted out the offending chant again on the next Necaxa free kick, Guerrero stopped the match as league protocol requires. The game ended shortly thereafter without further incident.

With the win, Necaxa moves ahead of Santos into first place. The Rayos have 28 points from 15 games, while Santos has 27 points from 14 games. Necaxa will serve its bye on Matchday 16 while Santos can move back atop the table by defeating third-place Querétaro at home on Tuesday night.

Tijuana 2, Veracruz 0

Necaxa beats Atlas to move into first place
Tijuana’s Ariel Nahuelpan knocks home the clincher in minute 76. The Xolos defeated Veracruz 2-0. (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images) /

The visiting Tiburones completed their 41st consecutive Liga MX match without a win as Tijuana got two second-half goals to revive their playoff chances.

Lolo Mirando converted a penalty in minute 56 and Ariel Nahuelpan knocked home the clincher 15 minutes from time.

Tijuana now has 21 points, good enough for eighth place pending the rest of the weekend results.

Veracruz is entrenched in the cellar with 4 points from 14 games. They last won a league game on Aug. 25, 2018.