Leaders hold their nerve
Still unbeaten this season, Boca Juniors moved six points clear in Argentina after affording a heroes’ welcome to opponents Belgrano at the Bombonera. The visitors earned a special place in Xeneize hearts last June after relegating arch-rivals River Plate to the second division for the first time in their history. Corinthians kept their noses in front in Brazil but have four sides from Rio snapping at their heels, while in Mexico there is little to separate the top or bottom sides. Seattle Sounders fans came out in force to bid farewell to the retiring Kasey Keller in the MLS, where four sides are now left to compete for the final play-off berth. FIFA.com has all this and more in the latest review of the leagues across the Americas.
Argentina: Boca throw surprise party
In Argentina, fans showed once again why they are renowned for their passion and inventiveness. On this occasion it was Boca supporters hitting the headlines after turning the Bombonera into party central to welcome opponents Belgrano. The Cordoba side, while moved by the warm and heartfelt welcome, did their best to spoil the party by holding out for a 0-0 draw that prevented the league leaders from moving further clear of the pursuing pack. Injuries to Lucas Viatri and Juan Riquelme also added to coach Julio Falcioni’s frustration.
On a matchday that produced a mere 14 goals, Boca’s chief pursuers Atletico Rafaela and Racing Club lost to Estudiantes and drew with San Martin respectively. Six points clear and now 21 games unbeaten, the Buenos Aires giants remain firm favourites to win their first league title since 2008.
Brazil: Rio quartet on Corinthians’ tail
For long periods of the 2011 Brasileirao, the title race was hailed as a battle between sides from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the country’s top footballing cities, both in terms of club honours and fan bases. With just eight matchdays remaining that equation has changed somewhat, with Corinthians left to fly the flag for Sao Paulo on their own.
O Timão, who stayed top thanks to a spirited 1-0 win over Cruziero, now appear to be the only team who can prevent the national title going to Rio for a third consecutive year, after Flamengo’s triumph in 2009 and Fluminese’s last year. Determined to make it three in a row are a quartet of Carioca sides all within touching distance of the leaders. Vasco da Gama joined Corinthians on 54 with a 2-0 home win over Atletico Mineiro, while Botafogo, who have not won the Brasileirao since 1995, remain just two points back with a game in hand on everyone. Fla and Flu complete the picture on 51 and 50 points respectively. After going down 3-0 to Atletico Goianiense, Sao Paulo dropped to sixth on 48 points. The reverse was the Paulistas’ sixth game without a win, prompting the club to part company with coach Adilson Batista.
Mexico: tight at top and bottom
This season’s Apertura is the most open for many years, as evidenced by the ever-changing leader board. This week it was the turn of Santos Laguna to hit the front after a 3-2 win at home to Toluca. The club’s impressive run of form has coincided with the appointment of Benjamin Galindo as coach, but with no fewer than six teams within three points of the summit, there is still everything to play for.
The battle to stave off relegation produced plenty of drama of its own this weekend. Tijuana, hitherto without a win at home, put that right with a priceless 3-2 victory over Pachuca. Determined not to be left behind were bottom side Atlas, who stunned defending champions Pumas UNAM with a 4-1 reverse on the road. Chivas and America set the scene for next weekend’s derby showdown with impressive wins, the Guadalajara giants ruthlessly seeing off Estudiantes Tecos 5-2, and Las Águilas putting on a much-improved showing in their 3-0 win away to Monterrey.
USA: four vie for final berth
In one of the most exciting finishes to the regular season in recent years, four teams will fight it out for the last remaining play-off berth in the final week. New York Red Bulls ensured a nervy final matchday for their fans after going down to Sporting Kansas City in a match that saw league top scorer Thierry Henry pick up a straight red card. Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire and DC United are the other three sides still in with a chance of extending their season.
In total nine teams are safely through to play-offs, including the regular-season’s top side Los Angeles Galaxy, who downed Chivas USA 1-0 to remain unbeaten at home this campaign. Joining them there from the Western Conference will be Seattle Sounders, who drew a crowd of 64,000 fans to bid farewell to local hero Kasey Keller in their final home game, 2009 champions Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids. Safely though from the Eastern section are Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo and Columbus Crew.
Universidad Catolica ran out emphatic 4-0 winners at home to Colo Colo in the Chilean Clausura. And while El Cacique were cleared to play at Catolica’s ground for the first time in 13 years, no tickets were made available to the visiting side for security purposes. Universidad de Chile, 3-2 winners over Union La Calera, continue to lead the overall standings on 32 points and remain ten clear of Colo Colo and Audax Italiano.
LDU de Quito, currently fourth in the Ecuadorian championship on 20 points, were 3-0 winners over Liga de Loja despite fielding a weakened team ahead of next Friday’s crunch meeting with leaders Deportivo Quito (30 pts). The pacesetters continued their fine recent form with a 4-1 away win over Imbabura SC, while Barcelona remain five points off the pace thanks to their 3-0 win at home to Independiente del Valle.
Lastly, in Venezuela Caracas posted their sixth consecutive victory to retake outright lead of the Apertura. Their 2-0 away win over Estudiantes de Merida moved them to 24 points and three clear of nearest challenger Lara, who triumphed 3-0 at home to El Vigia.