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Liga MX W2W4: Leon's playoff chase

Liga MX
 By Tom Marshall

America extends undefeated run; Monterrey rocked by Necaxa

Andre-Pierre Gignac's double put Tigres back on track as one of the favorites for the title.

It's been a whirlwind last 10 days in Liga MX, with each team playing three games in the 2018 Clausura. Round eight this past weekend took us to the brink of the halfway point of the regular season. Here's what we learned:

1. Late Valdez strike extends America's undefeated run

Bruno Valdez netted in second-half injury time to rescue a point for Club America on Sunday against Veracruz. With a 1-1 draw, Las Aguilas maintained their record as the only team this Clausura not to suffer defeat.

Club America didn't click as it had in its 4-1 victory over Morelia last Tuesday and fell behind to a Carlos Esquivel strike in the 49th minute. But Miguel Herrera's team threw everything at Veracruz in search of an equalizer and deserved at least a point.

Veracruz's players looked devastated on the final whistle. The club is a heavy favorite to get relegated next May, but a win against America would've reduced the gap to Queretaro to a manageable six points in the relegation table. Now it's eight points, with only nine rounds of games to go before one team is relegated. In other words, Veracruz's first division status is in grave peril, despite the almost superhuman effort against Las Aguilas.

For America, the lasting image was Herrera urging his players forward after Valdez leveled. In typical Herrera style, he wasn't satisfied with just a draw, even though it took the Mexico City club two points clear at the top.

2. Monterrey humbled by Alvarado, Necaxa

It's been a very poor last week for Monterrey, with a loss to Toluca and a draw to Cruz Azul rounded off on Saturday by a 3-0 defeat to Necaxa.

The last time Rayados failed to win in three Liga MX matches was in September 2016, and while the club finishes Round 8 of matches still in a playoff position, there will be some concerns creeping in for coach Antonio Mohamed, especially given how convincing Necaxa's win was.

Paraguayan striker Carlos Gonzalez continued his fine Clausura by netting twice for Necaxa, but it was two youngsters who really caught the eye.

Skillful winger Roberto Alvarado was a constant threat down the right and provided two assists. Alvarado has already had trials at Manchester United, Sunderland and Leicester City, and the 19-year-old Mexican -- who has played 76 first-team games -- is well worth keeping an eye on.

The other influential youngster for Necaxa was 20-year-old Chilean Victor Davila, who played just behind Gonzalez and scored the second goal after a swift counter involving him and Alvarado.

Necaxa again showed itself to be a very well organized and coached side under Ignacio Ambriz and, with only five goals conceded so far, is well-placed to provide a few more shock results this season.

3. Gignac double sinks hopeless Atlas

Tigres came into the weekend under a certain amount of pressure, given they'd not won in three matches. But up stepped Andre-Pierre Gignac to net a double and secure a 2-0 victory in Estadio Universitario to put reigning champions Tigres back on track as one of the favorites for the title.

Atlas managed just one shot on goal, Ravel Morrison was taken off at half-time and defender Jaine Barreiro said afterwards that the team lacked "love" for the shirt. In sum, it's turning into a disastrous Clausura for Atlas, who remain bottom of the Liga MX table.

If there is any consolation for Atlas fans, it would probably be that city rivals Chivas are doing almost as poorly. Chivas drew 1-1 at home to Pachuca on Saturday in a game they dominated, but could've ended up losing had Angelo Sagal not struck a late penalty off the post for Tuzos.

Football in Guadalajara is in a depressing state, once again.

4. Pumas suffer in Xolos loss

Pumas were the feel-good story of the early weeks of the Clausura and rightly so, given the Mexico City club finished last in the 2017 Apertura and had looked a completely refreshed and rejuvenated unit in 2018.

But a 4-1 loss to Club Tijuana in Estadio Caliente on Saturday combined with the 2-1 home defeat to Veracruz midweek has raised a few question marks about how good Pumas really are.

Pumas have undoubtedly improved on last season, but there are still defensive issues, illustrated by the way Tijuana's Mateus Goncalves was able to cut through the defense so easily on Saturday.

Next week's home game against Chivas will be an important barometer, but the jury should still be out about how good David Patino's Pumas team really is.

5. Donovan left on bench at Leon

For the second consecutive game, Landon Donovan didn't see the field for Leon.

Donovan made his debut last week in the victory over Puebla in Estadio Leon, but instead of slowly picking up minutes with each game since, he didn't feature against Santos Laguna last Wednesday and Saturday's 1-1 tie with Queretaro raised some questions about his role with the club.

Attackers Hernan Burbano and Alvaro Ramos were thrown on in 58th minute with Leon 1-0 down against a Queretaro side that had been playing with 10 players from the 21st minute, when Javier Guemez was harshly sent off.

Coach Gustavo Diaz didn't make any further subs, meaning Donovan wasn't used.

"I didn't feel that the boys that were on the bench would contribute something different than those that were on," said Diaz afterwards. "Changes generate risk and the team was balanced and searching for [the goal]."

Donovan's fitness may well have been a decisive factor, but not bringing the former U.S. international was strange given Leon was chasing the game.

The 35-year-old will be hoping for minutes in Leon's Copa MX game on Tuesday against Cafetaleros de Tapachula.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.


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