Stars shine on mixed weekend for leaders

The weekend’s league action in the Americas brought stunning goals in Argentina and Brazil, slip-ups for the leaders in the USA and Chile and victories for the title favourites in Mexico - not to mention the first qualifier for next year’s Copa Libertadores. has the details in its latest weekly round-up.

Brazil: Big names prove decisive
Fluminense and Santos took big steps towards the respective Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo state championships at the weekend, thanks to match-winning performances from their star players. Front man Fred was instrumental for Flu as they came from behind to overwhelm Botafogo 4-1, the former Lyon striker scoring with an overhead kick. Deco, Thiago Neves and Rafael Sobis were his side’s other scorers.

In Sao Paulo, meanwhile, Neymar turned in another outstanding display as Santos swept to a 3-0 defeat of Guarani to move within touching distance of their third state crown in a row. The forward was in mesmerising form as he struck a brace to take his tournament tally to 18 and move even further ahead as the championship’s top scorer. With 104 goals in all for Santos, Neymar is now the club’s joint-leading marksman of the post-Pele era, alongside Serginho Chulapa and Joao Paulo. Also starring for O Peixe was Paulo Henrique Ganso.

The brace of comfortable wins provided the perfect preparation for both sides ahead of decisive Copa Libertadores ties this week.

Argentina: Close shave for Boca, Newell’s stay strong
Fielding a weakened side in preparation for their midweek engagement in the Libertadores, Boca Juniors were indebted to Nicolas Blandi's last-gasp bicycle kick as they salvaged a 2-2 draw with Atletico Rafaela to stay top of the Clausura table after 13 games. Los Xeneizes now have Newell’s Old Boys for company, however, Gerardo Martino’s side pulling level with them on points after coming from behind to beat Olimpo 2-1 and continue their surprise title charge.

Gio Moreno scored one of the weekend’s outstanding goals as Racing Club saw off Estudiantes 2-0, the Colombian striker dribbling past a Pincha defender and coolly lifting the ball over the keeper from inside the box. Winless since Matchday 7, the men from La Plata remain in the bottom half of the table and are now looking for a new coach.

With six games to go in the season, the battle to avoid relegation, which is decided by a points average calculated over three seasons, is also intensifying. Despite lying as high as third and fighting for the title with Boca and Newell’s, Tigre are one of the teams under threat, and are going down as it stands at the moment. San Lorenzo are also perilously placed, holding a slender two-point lead over Tigre, and are currently facing a relegation/promotion tie against a second division team. Intriguingly the two sides meet on Matchday 17.

Major League Soccer: Leaders lose momentum
It was not a good weekend for the frontrunners in the USA. After making a perfect start with seven wins in as many games, Eastern Conference top dogs Sporting Kansas City suffered their second defeat in going down 2-0 at home to Impact Montreal. The leaders are now only three points clear of DC United, while the Canadians have moved into the play-off slots.

Over in the West, pacesetters San Jose Earthquakes’ seven-game unbeaten run came to an end when they lost 2-1 to Vancouver Whitecaps, Eric Hassli netting the winner for the Canadian outfit in added time. Earlier Chris Wondolowski scored his 11th goal of the season for the leaders to strengthen his position as MLS’ leading marksman. Joining San Jose on 22 points are Real Salt Lake, who downed New England Revolution 2-1, both their goals coming from the Costa Rican Alvaro Saborio.

The weekend’s biggest attraction was the “derby” between Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, which ended in a 1-0 reverse for the reigning champions. Making light of the absence of the injured Thierry Henry, the New Yorkers claimed the three points and stayed third in the East thanks to Joel Lindpere’s solitary strike.

Mexico: Shattered dreams for Tijuana
Tijuana’s first appearance in the league play-offs ended in disappointment when they were held to a 2-2 draw by newly crowned CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey, a result that took Los Rayados through 4-3 on aggregate. Monterrey’s semi-final opponents will be America, who advanced to the last four despite losing at home to Pachuca. Reigning champions Tigres teed up a semi-final with Santos Laguna after thrashing Monarcas Morelia 4-1 away, while their upcoming opponents made it two wins out of two in their tie with Jaguares.

Deportivo Lara became South America’s first league champions of the year and the first side to qualify for the 2013 Copa Libertadores when they overcome Mineros 1-0 on Sunday to clinch the Clausura in Venezuela.

In Chile, meanwhile, Universidad de Chile suffered their second straight defeat, a sudden downturn that comes on the back of an 11-game winning streak in the league and the Libertadores. Beaten 4-1 by Deportivo Quito in the continental competition, La U went down 2-0 to Universidad Concepcion, though they remain five points clear of O’Higgins at the top of the table.

The top five teams in Colombia all won, with Tolima prevailing 1-0 at Medellin to stay four points clear of Atletico Huila.

Over in Uruguay, Defensor maintained their unbeaten record and championship lead with a 1-0 victory over Danubio. Staying a point behind in second after a 2-0 defeat of Fenix are Nacional, who have played one game more than the leaders.

Finally, Herediano and Santos will fight it out for the title in Costa Rica. In the weekend’s championship play-off semi-final return legs Herediano won 2-0 at Perez Zeledon to progress 3-1 on aggregate, while Santos edged out Deportivo Saprissa 1-0 to level their tie at 1-1 and advance to the final courtesy of a superior regular-season record.