Joy for Pumas, Brazil's race starts
Pumas showed their claws to take the Mexican title, while the new league season began in Brazil. Elsewhere, the tension rose another notch in Argentina and two of MLS’s younger teams continued to impress.
FIFA.com has the lowdown on those stories and more in its weekly look at the leagues in the Americas.
Mexico: Party time for Pumas
Pumas UNUM capped a magnificent campaign with the seventh championship win of their history, beating Monarcas Morelia 2-1 in the second leg of their play-off final in Mexico City. Joint top of the regular-season standings with Tigres, Pumas went into the decider as favourites, having drawn 1-1 in the first leg away.
The chances flowed at both ends in an electrifying encounter, with the hosts taking the lead through a Francisco Palencia penalty before Jaime Lozano levelled for Morelia, also from the spot. With 13 minutes remaining Javier Cortes sent the home fans into raptures with a fine winner.
The matchwinner was understandably elated at the final whistle: “It’s something everyone dreams about. We had a great tournament and this is a deserved reward for everyone who put their faith in us. It was the goal of my life.” The Pumas players also received a special message from Mexican President Felipe Calderon: “Pumas played extremely well, especially in the second half. They deserved the title. My congratulations to everyone.”
Argentina: Pressure on at top and bottom
On matchday 15 in the Argentinian Clausura, the situation got a good deal tighter in both the championship race and the fight to stave off relegation. Velez Sarsfield recovered their poise after last weekend’s setback against Lanus, beating Gimnasia and Esgrima 2-0 to pull three points clear of Godoy Cruz. Uruguayan-born Santiago Silva was on target for Ricardo Gareca’s side, doing his chances of a call-up from his adopted Argentina no harm and underlining his status as one of the stars of the season - one Velez also hope will bring them glory in the Copa Libertadores.
There were further developments in the battle to avoid relegation, which is determined by the points average over the last three seasons. River Plate slipped further into trouble after drawing 1-1 with San Lorenzo at the Estadio Monumental. Leandro Caruso gave Los Millonarios the lead with a cheeky backheel before keeper Juan Pablo Carizo, who was at fault against Boca Juniors last weekend, allowed Jonathan Ferrari’s speculative long-range effort to slip through his hands and over the line.
River are now in a perilous 17th place in the relegation table, behind Arsenal, Tigre and Olimpo and ahead only of Gimnasia, Quilmes and Huracan. Two of these sides will go down automatically, with a third going into a play-off. With only four games remaining, next week’s meeting between River, who have never been relegated, and Olimpo could well prove decisive.
Brazil: National championship underway
While one race has ended in Mexico, another has just begun in Brazil, with the national league kicking off. Catching the headlines on the opening weekend were the likes of Ronaldinho, Liedson, Kleber and the young duo of Lucas and Bernardo. Flamengo ended it in first place after outclassing Avai 4-0, with Ronaldinho rolling back the years with a masterful display full of surging runs, dribbles and assists, all capped by a classy goal.
Bernardo spearheaded Vasco da Gama’s 3-1 comeback win against Ceara with two goals, while Liedson hit Corinthians’ winner as they came from behind to down Gremio 2-1 at Olimpico, the ninth match he has scored in this year, all of them ending in victories for his team. Brazil U-20 star Lucas was the driving force in Sao Paulo’s 2-0 triumph at reigning champions Fluminense, while Kleber scored a stunning winner on his 100th appearance for Palmeiras as they overcame Botafogo.
USA: New boys on the march
Founded only last season, Philadelphia Union have adapted to MLS life quickly. Their 2-1 defeat of Chicago Fire, capped by Carlos Ruiz’s superb 40-yard drive, took them above New York Red Bulls and into the lead in the Eastern Conference with 17 points. “It’s one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen,” said team-mate Danny Califf. Ruiz, who is Guatemala’s all-time top scorer, has had a big hand in the Union’s surge to the top, hitting three goals so far this season.
In the Western Conference Seattle Sounders, who came into being just two years ago, saw off Sporting Kansas City 1-0 to move up to fourth place, just a point behind Dallas in second. Still on top are Los Angeles Galaxy, who edged out Chivas USA 1-0 away. “Can we play better? Yes,” said Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid afterwards. “Are we happy at winning three points? Yes.”
Finally, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps are experiencing contrasting fortunes in their first seasons in MLS. While the Timbers lie fifth in the West, just a point off second place, and remain unbeaten at home, the Canadians lie bottom of the Conference with just one victory in 11 games, the latest of them a 1-1 draw with compatriots Toronto.
In Uruguay, leaders Nacional beat Danubio 1-0 to open up a five-point advantage over Penarol, who drew 1-1 at Defensor Sporting.
Nacional of Paraguay bounced back from defeat to Libertad with a 3-1 win over Sportivo Luqueno, with all three of their goals coming from Javier Gonzalez. Olimpia remain just two points behind, however, following a comfortable 3-0 defeat of Rublo Nu.
In Peru, Alianza Lima are in the lead at the halfway stage of the season thanks to their 5-0 rout of Sport Boys and Cienciano’s 4-0 defeat at Leon de Huanuco, which drops them down to second.
Finally in Ecuador, Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito went top courtesy of a 2-0 win over Imbabura and Emelec’s goalless draw with Deportivo Quito.