NICK LEYDEN - Monday, January 9, 2012
Oguchi Onyewu and Sporting split the points with defending champion Porto, while Caleb Patterson-Sewell also helped Atlético to a tie against União.
Sporting CP 0 - 0 FC Porto
Entering the weekend six points behind the league leaders, Sporting welcomed Porto to the Estádio José Alvalade knowing that the game could go a long way to determining the legitimacy of their title challenge.
A scoreless 90 minutes certainly did not eliminate the Lions from the championship hunt, nor did it prove, however, that they are finally ready to seriously challenge Porto and Benfica for the first time since 2008-2009.
Sporting maintained greater possession than the visitors in the first half, and produced the best chance when Anderson Polga's header was expertly saved by Helton in the 28th minute.
Two strong defenses, and two out of synch frontlines, made sure the score remained locked at zero throughout the second stanza as well.
Sporting's best chance came in the 84th minute when Matias Fernandez dragged a teasing cross just out of the reach of a misfiring Ricky van Wolfswinkel only for the ball to end up at the feet of Marat Izmailov roughly ten yards from goal.
The Russian attacker had Helton beat, but his tame shot was cleared off the line by Porto's Alvaro Pereira.
For their part, Porto could have locked up the victory in stoppage time when a shot by James Rodriguez that looked to be goal bound was inadvertently blocked by teammate Nicolas Otamendi.
Onyewu played a solid 90 minutes in the center of Sporting's defense, helping to limit an isolated Hulk to just a couple dangerous moments.
The point temporarily moves Porto to the top of the standings, with Sporting six points back in third place. However, a Benfica win over Leiria on Sunday would vault them two points above Porto.
Gooch and company will next take the field on Wednesday in the first leg of the Portuguese Cup semifinals against Nacional.
União da Madeira 1 - 1 Atlético CP
An 85th minute goal by Ailton rescued a point for Atlético on a long road trip to the Atlantic island of Madeira.
The host's main attacking threat, Tozé Marreco , opened the scoring in the 36th minute by finishing off a rebound after Patterson-Sewell saved Ruben Andrade's shot.
The second half did not produce a great deal of attacking soccer as the hosts, who are struggling near the bottom of the table, seemed content to protect their lead.
Atlético were eventually able to break through with five minutes remaining, though the tie marks their fifth straight game without a win.
The slump has dropped the Lisbon side to second place, two points behind Estoril, who also have a game in hand.
Depending on results later in the weekend, Atlético could fall all the way to fifth place.
Tony Taylor, who has been called by Caleb Porter to participate in the upcoming U-23 training camp, was not at the game.