Boca shine bright, Galaxy take charge

Boca are well on their way towards clinching the title in Argentina after a win at the weekend as young striker Nicolas Blandi stole the show, while five teams have booked their place in the Mexican Apertura play-offs. In the USA, the conference semi-finals got underway in Major League Soccer with a fiery encounter between Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls taking centre stage. Join as we review this action and more in the Americas.

Argentina: Blandi living Boca dream
"This is a dream come true, but I need to keep working,” said Boca Juniors forward Nicolas Blandi after bagging a brace in his side’s vital 3-1 victory over Atletico Rafaela. The win has put the first-placed side in perfect position to reclaim the title for the first time in three years and, at 21-years-old, Blandi is experiencing a parallel fairytale run after his return from Argentinos Juniors in August. Blandi had almost left Boca after that loan spell, but a season-ending injury to striker Lucas Viatri – who had assumed a starting role after Martin Palermo’s retirement in June – gave the youngster a rare opportunity to prove his worth. And, he did just that, scoring twice in each of his two outings so far with the squad to help seal wins over Rafaela and Colon de Santa Fe respectively. Even more impressive, was Blandi’s quickfire approach as he netted twice in the span of 16 minutes against Rafaela at the weekend, while simultaneously becoming the club’s top scorer with just two games played.

The victory over second-placed Rafaela extended Boca's unbeaten run to 23 matches, leaving the leaders nine points clear of their opponents with just six games remaining. Velez Sarsfield and Belgrano, meanwhile, lost their respective matches to Argentinos Juniors and Colon de Santa Fe.

Brazil: Corinthians lead with Vasco held
With just six games left to play, Corinthians are in a heated race with Vasco da Gama for top spot in the Brazilian Championship. In typical fashion, Corinthians overcame a tough task in Avai, who are in risk of relegation, to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win. Vasco da Gama, on the other hand, were held to a goalless draw with Sao Paulo in Rio de Janeiro, allowing Corinthians to assume top spot with 58 points and 17 victories, just one win better than their fellow title chasers.

But perhaps the more intriguing fixture on the weekend was that between Gremio and Flamengo. The match marked Ronaldinho’s return to former club Gremio after they had felt betrayed when the playmaker signed with Flamengo back in January. And, the Brazilian star’s return proved strong incentive as Gremio came from behind to clinch an impressive 4-2 win.

Mexico: Wasteful Chivas set up for nervy finale
In the penultimate round of Apertura fixtures, five teams sealed their place in the play-offs. Guadalajara wasted their chance to assure themselves of a first-place finish at the weekend after rock-bottom Atlas held them to a 1-1 draw. The leaders were given a man advantage when Luis Ramos was sent off before half-time and soon went ahead through Erick Torres, but Lucas Ayala levelled the score.

Chivas, who now have to wait to cement their final standing, will be joined by Jaguares, Cruz Azul, Tigres and Pachuca in the play-offs, while eight other teams still hang in the balance as they must still play their final game of the championship to determine their fates. Santos Laguna, Pumas UNAM and Queretaro appear the likely clubs to seal such qualification. And while Queretaro are on the verge of progression, they managed to all but end Toluca’s chances as they ran out slender 1-0 winners on Sunday. The match proved to be a peculiar meeting between the two sides as Toluca legend Jose Saturnino Cardozo, incensed the Toluca faithful, returning to the stadium he once called home as head coach of Queretaro.

USA: Galaxy, Red Bulls in heated battle
Tempers flared as the Los Angeles Galaxy kicked off their Western Conference semi-final tie with a 1-0 win at New York Red Bulls.  Galaxy, who scored through Mike Magee, enter next weekend’s second leg at the Home Depot Center with a welcome first-leg advantage, but things were not all rosy at Red Bull Arena as both New York’s Rafael Marquez and Los Angeles’ Juninho were shown red after the final whistle when a heated melee at midfield ensued - further spurring the bitter rivalry developing among these two sides.

Seattle Sounders, meanwhile, were stunned by a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in the other Western Conference semi-final. The 2009 champions ran out convincing winners thanks to a brace from Alvaro Saborio and a last-minute goal from substitute Ned Grabavoy. In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, Houston Dynamo secured a 2-1 away win at Philadelphia Union. Calen Carr scored the game winner, after Andre Hainault had netted in the fifth minute only to see the in-form Sebastian Le Toux pull one back for Union. Sporting Kansas City enjoyed a more comfortable result, claiming a 2-0 success over ten-man Colorado Rapids with Teal Bunbury scoring twice.

After a 5-0 aggregate success over Flamengo had sealed their place in the Copa Sudamericana quarter-finals, Universidad de Chile maintained their lead at the summit in Chile even after a 2-2 draw with Colo Colo.

In Ecuador, LDU de Quito were boosted by a 4-1 win over Deportivo Cuenca in what was a card-strewn affair. Both LDU and Cuenca dropped down to ten men, but nonetheless, the triumph moved LDU on to 40 points and one ahead of Deportivo Quito, who were held to a 2-2 draw by Olmedo.

Finally, the leaders remained unchanged in Peru as Alianza Lima retained their place at the top of the table despite collecting just a point from a 0-0 draw with San Martin. Juan Aurich are the leaders closest chasers at six points back after a 2-0 defeat of Sporting Cristal.