U-17s Impress in Recent World Cup Run, Liga MX Rolls On

Monarcas Morelia won the cup, the U-17 national team plays a WC final and the regular season ends this weekend
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, November 08, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

Even though the senior national team is not in action, this is still a big week in Mexican soccer. The Copa MX final was held on Tuesday night, Mexico's U-17 national team will play in the World Cup final on Friday and this weekend is the final round of matches in the Apertura 2013.

U-17 National Team – Potro's boys impressing the world

Led again by Raúl “Potro” Gutiérrez, El Mini Tri has a chance on Friday to become the first back-to-back World Cup champions ever at the U-17 level when they face Nigeria. Despite casting aside footballing powers Italy, Brazil and Argentina, that task may be harder than imagined.

The national team lost its opening match of the group stage 6-1 to none other than Nigeria. The Eaglets' attacking midfielder Kelechi Iheanacho scored 4 goals against Mexico, leading his team to a surprising rout. Since that initial setback, Mexico has defeated Iraq, Sweden, Italy, Brazil and most recently Argentina in the semifinals. Each win has called upon Mexico to play a different game but with the same resolute mentality.

In the game against Iraq, Mexico had to pick itself up after a devastating result just three days earlier. Sweden played a determined defensive game and Mexico had to show patience to break down the two rows of four guarding the Swedish penalty area. Against Italy, Mexico took advantage of a first half wonderstrike by Alejando Díaz and absorbed pressure. Mexico counterattacked Brazil in regulation and showed composure by shooting second in a penalty shootout that went through the whole squad. Mexico showcased set piece precision early with two goals from Iván Ochoa in first 21 minutes.

If Mexico is to figure out a way to get even with Nigeria and lift the trophy, head coach Gutierrez will have to change the way his boys play yet again. Nigeria has quick and powerful attacking players and physically imposing defenders. Friday's championship match will be an entertaining affair and even second place with validate the success of Mexico's youth national team set-up over the past decade.

Copa MX – Federico Vilar the hero of the night

On Tuesday night, Monarcas Morelia hosted Club Atlas in the final of the Apertura 2013 Copa MX. The cup competition was reintroduced last fall and has been won by second division Dorados de Sinaloa in the Apertura 2012 (led by legendary Cuauhtemoc Blanco) and Cruz Azul in Clausura 2013. Both of the previous finals were won in penalties by the visiting team.

Both sides sent out first choice lineups, and the quality of Morelia was quickly apparent. Morelia's Ecuadorian forward Jefferson Montero continued his blistering form with a goal in the 6th minute before Édgar Andrade doubled the advantage in the 12th minute with a long range golazo. A few minutes before halftime the game was turned on its head.

Omar Bravo drove Atlas into Morelia's area before Federico Vilar came off his line to knock the ball away. While for the Argentine goalkeeper was still on the ground, the ball fell to Vicente Vuoso whose shot looked destined for the back of the net before defender Carlos Morales stuck his arm out to prevent a certain goal. Referee Fernando Guerrero had no choice but to red card Morales and Bravo netted his penalty past Vilar to give Atlas a lifeline in the game. Just as Bravo appeared to be his team's hero, he received his second yellow card for a reckless late challenge in midfield.

The teams emerged from halftime energized, though both playing a man down. It only took Atlas forward Vuoso six minutes to tie the game with a well-struck effort just out of Vilar's reach. Three minutes later, Morelia's Chilean striker Héctor Mancilla looked to end any chance of a comeback by scoring after a bad mistake by Atlas goalkeeper Miguel Pinto. With the score at 3-2 and playing away from home, Atlas could have rolled over but midfielder Lucas Ayala had different plans. Out of seemingly nothing he ran onto a laid off ball and absolutely buried a rocket of a shot into the far corner three minutes later.

Three goals within six minutes was an exhausting pace and, even though both teams created further chances, regulation ended with the score tied at 3-3. In the ensuing penalty shootout, naturalized Mexican forward Vicente Vuoso saw his effort saved by Vilar before Mancilla scored past Pinto. Flavio Santos scored his penalty for Atlas, but Vilar himself scored against his counterpart. Argentine veteran Leandro Damiao Cufré's shot was saved by Vilar to the same side as Vuoso. Armando Zamorano scored his penalty, putting Morelia up 3-1 and piling pressure on Lucas Ayala, the next shooter for Atlas. Ayala's shot to the right side was saved by Vilar, who raced out to join his teammates at midfield in celebrations.

Monarcas Morelia won the penalty shootout 3-1 and lifted the Copa MX trophy in front of 30,000-plus fans in Michoacan. The trophy gives fans and the people of the state of Michoacan something to celebrate, having suffered through some of the worst violence in Mexico related to organized crime in the past seven years.

Liga MX – Five teams competing for the last playoff spots

Club América, Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul, Club León and Toluca have already assured their place in Liguilla (playoffs), but the latter three teams can still finish as higher or lower seeds. Chiapas, Morelia and Querétaro currently sit in the final three playoff berths, but Tigres and Tijuana still have a chance with good results this weekend.

Chiapas visits Atlante, who sit in 18th place in the table and have only won two games this season. Morelia hosts Puebla and La Franja are in 11th place, out of playoff contention. Querétaro visits Pachuca, who were also recently eliminated from the Liguilla race. Tigres visits Atlas, who have had a pretty bad season in 15th place. Tijuana visits León, who will want a win in order to assure a higher seed.

A win for Chiapas assures Liguilla participation and qualification for the 2014 Copa Libertadores (as CONMEBOL invites three Mexican teams to each year's competition). A win would also assure playoffs for Morelia and Querétaro. Tigres would qualify with a win or a draw if Queretaro loses and Tijuana loses, and with a win if Morelia loses. Tijuana needs to win and have two of Morelia, Queretaro and Tigres lose this weekend. It's rather remarkable that none of the five teams fighting over the remaining three Liguilla spots will play one another.


Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.