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 By Tom Marshall

Toluca move into first place in Liga MX; Chivas, America win ahead of CCL

Toluca's momentum shows little sign of letting up, after a ninth consecutive victory in all competitions.

The 13th round of games of the Liga MX 2018 Clausura saw a new side climb into pole position, as well as both of Mexico's CONCACAF Champions League semifinalists pick up wins ahead of midweek matches against MLS opposition.

Here are five storylines from the past weekend:

1. Chivas, Club America grab wins ahead of CCL semis

Mexico's representatives in the CCL semifinals won this weekend, with Chivas defeating Morelia 2-1 away on Friday evening and Club America winning 2-1 in Estadio Azteca against Mexico City rivals Cruz Azul.

Chivas coach Matias Almeyda put out a young side, likely with one eye on the CCL first leg against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. Mexico international Rodolfo Pizarro, after a quiet international break, netted both Chivas goals to keep the Guadalajara team's playoff hopes alive.

Club America's Miguel Herrera didn't rest any players before Las Aguilas' trip to Toronto, and although Oribe Peralta left the field injured in the second half, the coach said Sunday that the striker would be fit to face Toronto on Tuesday at BMO Field.

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe scored for Club America after Edgar Mendez had put La Maquina ahead in the sixth minute.

The wins set the Liga MX big two up nicely ahead of the CCL semis.

2. Work to do for Pedro Caixinha at Cruz Azul

La Maquina started brightly against America, with Mendez taking advantage of some woeful defending from Edson Alvarez to give Cruz Azul a lead, but the result leaves Cruz Azul -- one of Mexico's "big four" -- down in 16th place and realistically out of playoff contention. The frustration could be seen as goalkeeper Jesus Corona took a swipe at a camera as he was leaving the pitch inside Estadio Azteca.

This Clausura represents a downturn for a side that had looked to be on the up under Paco Jemez, with Cruz Azul only going out of the 2017 Apertura quarters due to its lower final position in the regular season compared to America, after the two drew 0-0 over 180 minutes.

Pedro Caixinha came in over the winter and seemed to be the right fit, but instead of building on Jemez's relative success, it's taking time for the team to adapt to the Portuguese manager's playing style.

And time is something that poses a dilemma for Cruz Azul. The league title drought now extends past 20 years, yet if that is going to end, it's likely going to require a manager like Caixinha being given time to establish a longer-term vision than the club has had of late.

We'll see if the Cruz Azul hierarchy feel the same way and gives Caixinha some spending money to reconstruct the squad in the summer.

3. Donovan starts first Liga MX game, Leon suffer

Leon coach Gustavo Diaz hinted before Saturday's game that Landon Donovan would be unlikely to start against Tigres, and so it was somewhat surprising that the American was given his first Liga MX start, replacing injured attacking midfielder Luis "Chapo" Montes in the XI.

It wasn't a great game for Donovan or Leon, with Tigres sweeping La Fiera away 4-1. The home side enjoyed 67 percent possession, making it a difficult evening chasing the game for Donovan and his teammates. The 36-year-old had one shot off target and completed 15 passes over 61 minutes on the field, although Diaz was upbeat about Donovan after the game.

"He's grown each week since he arrived and not having Chapo meant we had to put him in," said Diaz. "We knew it was a risk, and he, like a gentleman, accepted the responsibility.

Landon Donovan, playing in Liga MX with Leon, will root for Mexico at this World Cup.
Landon Donovan made his first start for Club Leon in a 4-1 loss to Tigres.

"He's getting there, in moments he showed quality, he has a great mentality and he will be a starter again."

Diaz's main concern right now should not be Donovan or the forward line, but the way the side is conceding goals. No team has leaked more than the 28 goals Leon have allowed so far this Clausura.

4. Toluca takes top spot from Santos Laguna

Toluca surge continued with Los Choriceros defeating Lobos BUAP 2-1 on Saturday to move ahead of Santos Laguna into first place.

That makes it nine consecutive victories for Toluca in all competitions. And while most of the title talk revolves around Club America, Tigres and Monterrey -- who defeated Pachuca and seem to have rectified their midseason blip -- the team from Estado de Mexico is growing in confidence and must now be in the title conversation.

Santos Laguna is also in the title picture, although it'll be interesting to see how Los Guerreros respond to Friday's shock 3-2 loss to Atlas at Estadio Jalisco.

Lobos BUAP's loss combined with Atlas' win now means Lobos is in last place in the 2018 Clausura table.

5. Rafa not giving up on World Cup

One of the storylines towards the end of the Clausura regular season is going to be Rafa Marquez. The 39-year-old is likely to be playing his final club games as a professional and, despite problems with the U.S. Treasury Department, is looking to go to his fifth World Cup in the summer.

On Friday, Marquez gave a positive display in a holding midfield role -- an area that has been problematic for Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio. Marquez played and completed more passes (58) than anyone else on the pitch, assisted on the first goal in the 22nd minute and two minutes later almost scored himself with a header.

And his head is focused on making Russia 2018, should Osorio pick him.

"If I had a legal problem I wouldn't even be able to play in Atlas," Marquez said Sunday at a Liga MX event. "We have global brands and there isn't a problem, and that applies to the national team as well. They will take decision on the administrative side and the most important will be Osorio's on the sporting side."

It's going to be fascinating few weeks for Marquez.

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


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