RECAP: WEEKEND PORTUGUESE ACTION
Oguchi Onyewu played the full 90 in an electric Lisbon grudge match against Benfica, while Caleb Patterson-Sewell and Atlético suffered only their second defeat of the season against Moreirense.
Benfica 1-0 Sporting
With Sporting just a point behind league leading Benfica before their derby on Saturday night, emotions were running high all across the Portuguese capital.
For the first time in years Benfica's superiority over their neighbors had come into serious doubt, and fans of both teams were anxious about not only bragging rights, but title hopes.
The game began at a furious pace, with both teams playing determined, attacking soccer. Several dangerous chances were created early on at both ends, including a Nico Gaitan strike that caromed off Rui Patricio's post in the 10th minute allowing Gooch and crew to breathe a temporary sigh of relief.
The deadlock was broken in the 41st minute, though, when Javi Garcia powered home a Pablo Aimar corner kick, causing over 60,000 Benfiquistas at the Estádio da Luz to erupt.
Onyewu had tried in vain to intercept Aimar's cross, but it soared agonizingly over his head and into the path of the unmarked Spaniard.
Despite being down a goal at the interval Sporting could take heart that for the first time in the last three seasons they were playing Benfica evenly and the game was far from out of reach.
The second half saw the back and forth continue, as both teams pressed forward only to be thwarted by outstanding goaltending.
Paraguayan target man Oscar Cardozo was denied by Patricio on a breakaway early on, while Benfica's Brazilian ‘keeper Artur denied an Elias header with what will be a contender for save of the year minutes later.
After picking up his second yellow card for dissent in the 63rd minute Cardozo was ejected, handing Sporting a golden opportunity to get their first positive league result against Benfica since March of 2009. But the Lions were unable to capitalize on the man advantage, as missed chances and a heroic performance from Artur kept them out of the net.
In a physical game that saw nine yellows, plus Cardozo's red, Onyewu stood out as a physical presence by consistently winning defensive headers, making several tough tackles and coming to his teammate's defense when pushing and shoving broke out in the Benfica box.
Always a target on set pieces, the former Clemson Tiger also got involved with the offense with launching long distance throws into the box.
Defensively Gooch and Anderson Polga did well to give up just a single goal against Benfica's persistent attacks, though he did have some uncomfortable moments, including one bad touch that led directly to a clear Cardozo chance early in the second half.
The loss leaves Sporting in third place, four points behind Benfica and Porto who are tied at the top.
The passion of the rivalry was also clearly evident in the stands throughout the match, as dozens of Sporting fans were arrested before the opening whistle and others lit the visiting stands on fire at the game's conclusion.
Sporting will next take the field on Thursday 12/1 when they try to add to their first place cushion in the Europa League against FC Zurich.
Atlético 2-3 Moreirense
Caleb Patterson-Sewell suffered his worst game since moving to Portugal by giving up three goals in a loss to fellow promotion hopeful Moreirense.
The defeat was Atlético's first since September.
It will be particularly hard for Coach Joăo de Deus to swallow as the game also marked only the third time Atlético has managed to score multiple goals in their ten games.
Fabio Espinho opened the scoring for Moreirense on a 21st minute free kick, but Tiago Caiero responded with two goals for the hosts before the halftime whistle.
Caiero tallied from the penalty spot in the 30th minute, and then gave Atlético the lead in the 40th minute by connecting with a header off a Luis Dias cross.
Brazilian attacker Wagner would have the last laugh for Moreirense though, as he notched late goals in the 83rd and 85th minute, the latter on a penalty kick after Laurindo had been whistled for a foul in the box.
Patterson-Sewell had only picked the ball out of his own net three times in the first nine games combined, but matched that total in ninety minutes against the northerners.
Florida native Tony Taylor did not suit up for Atlético after becoming a regular in the starting lineup for several weeks.
Despite the loss Atlético remain in first place in the Liga Orangina, with a two point lead over Santa Clara. They next take the field against Penafiel on 12/11.