Landon Donovan continues to struggle for playing time
Five talking points from Round 11 of games in the Liga MX 2018 Clausura:
1. Donovan struggling for meaningful minutes at Leon
Ahead of Club Leon’s 2-0 loss to Club America on Saturday, Landon Donovan said that the match inside Estadio Azteca was one that grabbed his attention before he signed on to play in Liga MX. Given the 36-year-old’s history with the U.S. national team and the stadium’s significance for El Tri, that was natural.
Going into the game, it looked as those Donovan would be in line for minutes, with Leon missing right-winger Elias Hernandez, striker Mauro Boselli, and central midfielder Alex Mejia through injury.
That Donovan started on the bench wasn’t a shock, given he’d accumulated a total of only 25 minutes for Leon in league play (plus 31 in cup action) since debuting on Feb. 10. He missed the Copa MX victory against Celaya last Wednesday. But it was surprising that he only came on in the 76th minute.
As half-time came and Club America had a 1-0 lead, it would have been logical for Leon coach Gustavo Diaz to consider playing Donovan to try to change the course of the game. After all, what would there have been to lose, especially with so many experienced attacking players out?
But when Leon did make its first sub at 72nd minute down 2-0, it was to put on 19-year-old Jorge Diaz, who wears the No. 302 shirt and, like Donovan, has never started a Liga MX game.
Four minutes later, Donovan entered to a wall of boos from Club America fans. Donovan didn’t seem perturbed, telling reporters afterwards that the boos he received in front of 28,398 America fans in the Azteca this time were nothing compared to what it was like facing Mexico in front of a packed stadium.
There were some nice touches from Donovan in the 14 minutes he was on the pitch. The former L.A. Galaxy forward nearly set up a goal, but the game was already decided by the time he entered. And Las Aguilas didn’t waste the opportunity to use the dos a cero score in a friendly tweet at the final whistle.
It’s not time to overreact to Donovan’s playing time. This is a player who had been in retirement and for whom adapting to Liga MX play was always going to have to be a patient process. But as much as Donovan has stressed the team and results come before his own situation, the competitor inside would have surely loved the chance for more time in the Azteca and the opportunity to really impact a game in which Leon failed to register a single shot on target.
2. Santos Laguna stay top, Toluca make title case
It was a case of no Djaniny, no problem for Liga MX leader Santos Laguna on Sunday in their 3-2 home victory over Monterrey. The in-form Cape Verde striker — who has 12 goals in 10 games this Clausura — is out for between 10-15 days with a muscle injury, but it didn’t stop the Guerreros maintaining their two-point lead at the top of the Liga MX table.
Djaniny’s replacement, Jonathan Rodriguez, netted once in each half and Santos Laguna are looking like an increasingly solid and dependable unit under Robert Siboldi.
The same can’t be said for Monterrey, who should be given credit for coming back, but is looking like a shell of the dominant team it was during the 2017 Aperutra.
Also on Sunday, Toluca made it four consecutive wins with a 1-0 victory in Estadio Olimpico Universitario against Pumas to remain in third position.
“A lot of people talked negatively about the squad without understanding it and now that makes me smile,” said Toluca coach Hernan Cristante after the game. “Today we are natural Landon Donovan continues to struggle for playing time candidates through our determination and drive.”
It’s difficult to disagree on Toluca’s current form, although Pumas are really struggling after a blistering start to the season.
3. Cruz Azul’s mental training paid off
Cruz Azul has become synonymous with blowing leads, failing to live up to expectations and general disappointment. “To Cruz Azul” has even become a verb in Mexico.
After a run of eight games without a victory in Liga MX, news about the club using what is called “mental coaching” in Mexico — basically sports psychology — during the week leading up to Saturday’s game against Pachuca filtered out. It led to the usual tongue-in-cheek headlines making fun of the Mexican City club.
But whatever was said and done certainly had the desired effect, with Cruz Azul thrashing Pachuca 5-0 in the kind of authoritative performance against top opposition that La Maquina hasn’t put on for years. It was exactly what Pedro Caixinha needed after a shaky start to his tenure as coach.
And Cruz Azul wasn’t the only struggling team to record wins this weekend: Chivas overcame Lobos BUAP 1-0 away and Atlas defeated Puebla 1-0 on Friday.
4. Gignac sends Toronto warning shot
French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac warmed up for Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Toronto with a contender for goal of the season.
The strike just before half-time was the only goal in the comfortable 1-0 win over Club Tijuana and means Tigres is within a couple of wins of making the playoffs.
But Gignac’s wasn’t the only golazo of the weekend.
In Queretaro, Brazilian Everaldo Stum netted a stunning equalizer in Gallos Blancos‘ 1-1 draw with Necaxa on Saturday.
— LIGA Bancomer MX (@LIGABancomerMX) March 11, 2018
5. Veracruz sinks deeper into relegation trouble
Liga MX will be suspending relegation, but not until after this 2018 Clausura, which is very bad news for Veracruz.
The Tiburones Rojos lost 2-0 away at Morelia on Friday evening and with Atlas’ win, the gap between the two teams in the relegation table is now 11 points.
Veracruz’s only hope appears to be, well, to start winning games — beginning against Atlas next weekend — combined with Lobos BUAP picking up fewer than six points from their last six games.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.