River face relegation, Paulistas riding high
With Velez Sarsfield already crowned 2011 Clausura champions, the battle against relegation heated up in Argentina. As three Argentinian clubs attempt to avoid the drop, Sao Paulo are enjoying an impressive start to their Brazilian championship campaign, while Vancouver Whitecaps brought an end to an unprecedented winless streak in Major League Soccer. FIFA.com reviews all this and more in a weekly review of the leagues across the Americas.
Argentina: River amid relegation drama
The final round of action in the Argentinian Clausura presented plenty of drama for those in the fight to avoid relegation. With the drop determined by a points average over the course of three seasons, the most surprising club struggling for first division survival is River Plate. After a 2-1 loss to Lanus on Saturday, the 33-time Argentinian champions face a play-off match for the first time in their 110-year history, against second division Belgrano. River were unable to win any of their last seven matches, and with a play-off match now scheduled they will miss the next Copa Sudamericana.
Huracan and Gimnasia, on the other hand, have ended up with the same points average and will now play a final match to determine which of the two clubs will go straight down to the second division and which will navigate a play-off match. In a complex series of events, Gimnasia dropped a two-goal lead to draw with Boca Juniors, who were shockingly revived by defender Christian Cellay. Gimnasia’s draw thus saved Huracan from automatic relegation after they had lost 5-1 to Independiente. Quilmes were not as fortunate to survive another day as they were relegated after a 1-0 loss to Olimpo.
Brazil: Joy in Sao Paulo, frustrations in Rio
After the fifth round of action in the Campeonato Brasileiro, Sao Paulo and Palmeiras have stamped their places atop the table. Sao Paulo defeated Ceara 2-0 in Fortaleza, making it five wins in all five of their opening matches - a feat never before accomplished since the Brasileiro implemented a new format in 2003. Marlos and Lucas scored for the impressive leaders, while Rogerio Ceni blocked a penalty effort to ensure the Paulistas took all three points from Sunday’s match. At Caninde stadium, Palmeiras stayed within close distance of the leaders, moving up to second place, after they eased to a convincing 5-0 win over Avai.
While the Paulista sides enjoyed successful outings at the weekend, it was a day of draws in Rio on Sunday. Botafogo and Flamengo were frustrated by a goalless draw and Vasco da Gama drew 1-1 with Gremio in Porto Alegre. The day prior, new coach Abel Braga was unable to lead Fluminense to victory in a late 1-0 loss to Bahia at Engenhao, while Cruzeiro have yet to claim a win this campaign after they drew 1-1 with America-MG. As a result, the bottom-dwellers’ coach Cuca announced his resignation.
USA: Whitecaps revived, Sounders survive setback
The Western Conference's Vancouver Whitecaps finally felt some relief as they brought an end to their 14-game winless run – a Major League Soccer single-season record. The MLS newcomers stopped their drought in style at Empire Field, defeating the Eastern Conference’s Philadelphia Union 1-0. Alain Rochat hit a left-footed strike in the 12th minute, draining a Philadelphia side, who put on a weary offensive display. Union missed their chance to surpass New York Red Bulls at the top of the Eastern table, who drew 3-3 in a chaotic encounter with Portland Timbers on Sunday. And despite their weekend success, Vancouver remain at the bottom of the Western Conference.
A depleted Los Angeles Galaxy bounced back from two successive draws, bringing an end to Colorado Rapids' nine-game unbeaten run with a 3-1 victory. While the Galaxy were pleased to increase their cushion atop the Western Conference, it was a ten-man Seattle Sounders who pulled off a more impressive 1-0 win over Toronto FC. Seattle had lost Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to two yellow cards, but hung on to secure a last-gasp victory over the struggling Easterners. Fredy Montero scored the decider from a free-kick to earn the Sounders their first-ever victory when playing a man down.
In the second leg of their league play-off final in Colombia, Atletico Nacional emerged 3-2 victors on penalties. La Equidad had secured a 2-1 advantage in the first leg, but with Atletico finishing Saturday’s match 2-1 winners with goals from Dorlan Pabon and Carlos Renteria, their 3-3 aggregate draw was settled by way of a shootout.
In Ecuador, Emelec maintained their lead at the top of the table with a 2-0 victory over Espoli, while LDU Quito leapfrogged Deportivo Quito into second place, despite a 1-0 loss to the Deportivo club in midweek. LDU Quito drew 1-1 with Olmedo to move four points adrift of Emelec atop the table, while Deportivo suffered a 2-0 loss to Manta on Sunday.