While its issues aren't as obvious as those faced by some of its rivals, Cruz Azul could do well to shake up its aging roster.It would seem that the big Mexican clubs that need a rethink this offseason are Pumas and Chivas.
It is obvious that both do indeed need to work hard in buying players to improve on their dire campaigns last time out in the Apertura 2013. Pumas finished dead last in 18th, while Chivas were two places above them in 16th.
But there is also an argument that Cruz Azul – another one of Mexico’s “big four” - should make some major changes following last weekend’s 3-0 loss against Toluca and the strong likelihood that on Saturday evening after the return leg, La Maquina will have once again crashed out of title race.
On the face of it, Cruz Azul is a strong force.
The team finished the Apertura championship in fourth place in the regular season general table, is one of only three clubs – Morelia and Tigres are the others – to score 25 points or more in each of the last six seasons and was nine games undefeated coming into the disastrous match against Los Diablos Rojos.
But underneath the surface, there are problems within the squad, most noticeably the aging first team, lack of pace – Joao Rojas aside – and a culture of consistently failing in the playoffs.
The starting XI against Toluca included seven players over the age of 30 and only Rojas under the age of 26. Experience shouldn’t be undervalued, but it has to be balanced with fresher legs and Cruz Azul now has a core group of players that could do with being rejuvenated.
Jesus Corona, Gerardo Torrado, Julio Cesar Dominguez, Israel Castro, Alejandro Castro and Christian Gimenez have been the regular backbone of a desperately trying to win its first championship since 1997 for years, including as part of the heartbreaking loss in the Clausura 2013 final against America.
Interestingly, rumors of interest in Corona from Chivas have been widespread in Mexican publications, while Gimenez has also been linked with a move back to Pachuca. There would be plenty of teams interested in Dominguez, the Castros and Torrado, despite his advancing years.
Coach Guillermo “Memo” Vazquez’s time in charge could well be up if Cruz Azul can’t overturn the 3-0 gap on Saturday.
If that does prove to be the case, it would be a timely opportunity for Cruz Azul to dismantle a side that has been consistent, without being brilliant, instead of waiting for a group of players to slowly decline.
It’s time for new blood in the blue machine.
(Cruz Azul hosts Toluca in Estadio Azul at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday)
Leon vs. Morelia (9 p.m. ET, Saturday)
Following Morelia’s comeback from 3-1 down to 3-3 in the first leg, the deciding game has been heating up, with Monarcas coach Carlos Bustos criticizing Leon for slamming the referee’s performance. Leon coach Gustavo Matosas responded by saying he didn’t want to get into the “mediocrity” of talking about other teams.
Crucially, Aldo Leao returns from injury for Leon.
America vs. Tigres (6 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Up to 10,000 Tigres fans are expected in Estadio Azteca on Sunday, looking to end America’s hopes of a historic 12th title. The first leg finished 2-2 in Monterrey. America coach Miguel Herrera said on Thursday he is very confident of victory, but Tigres midfielder Guido Pizarro has also stated that if his team plays as it did in the first half last Sunday, Tigres “will have a lot of chances to win.”
Santos vs. Queretaro (9 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Despite Los Guerreros letting a 3-0 lead turn into 3-2 in the first leg, Queretaro has a big task on its hands if it is to reverse the first leg deficit against a side that consistently makes the playoffs and is one of the favorites for the title.