GUADALAJARA – “Anyone can win the CONCACAF Champions League, but the Liga MX playoff is what is really important,” said a well-known commentator on Mexican television midway through the second half of Cruz Azul versus Leon on Saturday.
Of course, winning the CCL as Cruz Azul did last month is no easy feat, but he was spot on when it comes just how over-riding the drought of no Liga MX titles since 1997 is for Mexico’s third most popular club.
Every season it seems the club finds a new way to avoid lifting the title, while the pressure to do so is ratcheted up another notch. It is one of the most constant storylines in the Mexican game.
In the Clausura 2013, it was a header from America goalkeeper Moises Munoz in the dying seconds of the final. Last season it was one abysmal performance against Toluca in the playoff quarterfinal.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Leon and exit on away goals was particularly cruel.
Cruz Azul has undoubtedly been the Liga MX’s best team this Clausura and finished the regular season in first place.
A quarterfinal against reigning champion Leon looked tricky on paper, but a professional 1-1 tie in the first leg, followed by two early goals in the second leg seemed to have set La Maquina on course to cruise into the semifinals.
At 2-0 up, Cruz Azul was overflowing with confidence. The fluidity of the team’s passing was excellent, Joao Rojas was a menace down the wing, and Leon looked ready for a long summer vacation after a difficult season which included playing in the Copa Libertadores.
Then the heavens opened, the rain came pouring down and Cruz Azul crumbled. Mauro Boselli and Luis Montes struck and La Maquina went out. The writing seemed to be on the wall when the team hit the post twice in one attacking move five minutes from the end.
Cruz Azul’s drought is difficult to fathom. Obviously a playoff system means just one poor performance can destroy a whole season, but Cruz Azul make the playoffs almost every tournament and its record is atrocious.
The club has top players, pays high wages, has good support in the Estadio Azul and has more regular season points than any other club in the Liga MX over the last six tournaments.
If Mexico’s first division awarded its title the same way as most European leagues, La Maquina would now be champion. Unfortunately for the club’s fans, that isn’t the way it works and the suffering only continues.
Liga MX points over Apertura 2013 and Clausura 2014
Cruz Azul 65 pts
Santos Laguna 58
No “big four” in semis
Cruz Azul wasn’t the only big club to miss out on the semifinals, and none of Mexico’s “big four” – Chivas, America, Cruz Azul, Pumas – will be represented.
America lost 3-1 to Santos Laguna on Saturday to cap a strange season for the club, while Pumas also crashed out, losing 4-2 to Pachuca on Sunday.
Regular season runner-up Toluca will play Leon, with Santos Laguna facing Pachuca, with the first legs scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday and the second legs for Saturday and Sunday.