Giants falter, play-offs take shape

Excitement grew in Mexico and Brazil over the weekend as the countries’ respective national and state tournaments moved towards their decisive stages. It was a difficult round of matches for the leading sides in MLS, while in Argentina, fans witnessed something of a goal drought. 

Join as we look over the highlights from the weekend’s league action across the Americas.   

Mexico: Three play-off spots up for grabs
Four sides will battle it out in the final matchday of the season for the three remaining play-off spots in Mexico's first division. Tijuana, with 27 points, are the best-placed side going into the final round of the regular season, and a draw will be enough for them to not have to rely on results elsewhere. Pachuca, who could only manage a draw away to Monterrey at the weekend, now have 25 points and will be keeping a close eye on the sides chasing close behind them. Jaguares kept their play-off hopes alive with a 3-0 win over Pumas that brings them level on 24 points with Cruz Azul. The next matchday will also decide which sides finish in the highly sought top-four positions, and as such earn the right to play their second legs at home. Santos Laguna top the table as things stand, with a two-point lead over America, Morelia and Tigres.   

Major League Soccer: Leaders stumble in MLS
Real Salt Lake lost first place in the MLS Western Conference after a 3-1 away defeat by San Jose Earthquakes, who move above them to the top of the section. RSL finished the match with just nine men, after Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave both were given their marching orders for straight red cards. The result marked San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop’s 100th regular-season victory, and he becomes only the sixth MLS coach to have reached the milestone.

In the Eastern Conference, first-placed Sporting Kansas City lost their unbeaten record after they went down 1-0 to the Western Conference’s bottom club, Portland Timbers, following an own goal by defender Chance Myers. DC United provided the weekend’s other surprise result, with a comprehensive 4-1 win over New York Red Bulls. Chris Pontius hit the first hat-trick of his career, with Nick Deleon completing the rout to extend DC’s unbeaten streak to six matches. Thierry Henry scored the consolation for the Red Bulls, which puts him level on eight goals with Chris Wondolowski so far this season.

Argentina: Goals in short supply
Just 15 goals were scored in the nine top-flight matches played over the weekend, making it the season’s lowest-scoring round since the very first matchday. The tenth and final match of this round takes place on Monday, and sees fifth-placed Arsenal take on second-placed Newell’s Old Boys. As well as boosting the round’s goal tally, the match may also change the order at the top of the table. A win for Arsenal would take them level on points with leaders Boca Juniors, while victory for Newell’s Old Boys would see them leapfrog Boca into first.

The top half of the table is indeed very tight, with only four points separating Boca in first and Colon de Santa Fe in seventh. Boca secured a valuable point at the weekend with a 1-1 draw away to Belgrano and maintained their slim advantage over Tigre, who beat all-but relegated Olimpio 1-0. Velez Sarsfield let slip a golden opportunity to keep themselves in the title race, only managing a goalless draw against resurgent Lanus. All Boys, meanwhile, picked up their third straight victory to move closer to safety.

Brazil: Campinas revolution continues, finalists found
Guarani and Ponte Preta, the two clubs from the city of Campinas, are both steeped in tradition but have enjoyed little in the way of major success over the years. The pair gave reminders of their historic pasts at the weekend, however, with respective victories over giants Palmeiras and Corinthians in the quarter-finals of the Campeonato Paulista. The pair will now face each other in a mouth-watering local derby in the last four. The second semi-final features two other heavyweights of Brazilian football. Santos, for whom Neymar put in another stellar performance at the weekend, take on Sao Paulo, who will be without striker Luis Fabiano through suspension.

In Brazil’s other regional championships, Vasco da Gama knocked out Flamengo with a thrilling 3-2 victory, inspired by a brilliant brace from veteran playmaker Felipe. Vasco will now play Botafogo in the Rio Cup final, with the winners of that match to face Fluminese in the overall Rio state final.

In the second stage of the Campeonato Gaucho, Internacional beat Veranopolis 4-0 to set up a final against Porto Alegre city rivals Gremio next Sunday. The winner of that game will face Caixas in the title decider.

Reigning champions Olimpia finished the regular season at the top of the Honduran Clausura table, after strolling to a 4-0 win over Necaxa. The final round of play-offs, to be played over two legs, pits Marathon (third) against Vidas (sixth) and Choloma (fourth) against Real Espana (fifth), with the winners joining Olimpia and Motagua (second) in the semi-finals. Elsewhere, Platense, who made history by winning the inaugural edition of the competition in 1965, had their relegation to the second division confirmed over the weekend.

In the Chilean Apertura, leaders Universidad de Chile booked their place in the title play-offs after inflicting a heavy 4-0 defeat on Deportes Antofagasta. The victory will no doubt put them in positive mood ahead of next week’s clash against arch-rivals Colo Colo. El Cacique, for their part, came from behind to rescue a late 2-2 draw against Rangers. Universidad Catolica also enjoyed a positive end to a difficult week, following the sacking of coach Mario Lepe. Lepe was dismissed in the wake of a 3-0 defeat by Bolivar in the Copa Libertadores, but Los Cruzados reacted positively with a 3-0 win over La Serena. Cobreloa, meanwhile, ended their eight-match winless streak with a 1-0 victory over Cobresal, in coach Javier Torrente’s first match in charge.

Finally, in the Venezuelan Clausura, CD Lara held on to top spot with a 3-2 victory over Caracas, who slipped down to fourth. Mineros stay second after beating Zamora 3-1, while the side chasing them in third, Deportivo Anzoategui, enjoyed a 2-1 win over Deportivo Tachira.