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Tom Marshall: What now for Copa MX winner Cruz Azul?

The Copa MX may not be the European Champions League, Spain’s La Liga or even the Liga MX trophy that Cruz Azul fans so crave, but it was a piece of silverware after a long 15-year wait.

The 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory against minnows Atlante, after a dull 0-0 draw in normal time, was not the incisive, confident sweeping aside of a team at the bottom of the Liga MX and in relegation form. Indeed, goalkeeper Jesus Corona pulled off some spectacular saves late in the game to keep Cruz Azul in it. When the game ended, everything pointed to La Maquina’s curse of losing their last seven finals striking again and that number becoming eight.

And so while it may not be the most prestigious trophy, it is a trophy, and lifting one felt like one huge sigh of relief for Cruz Azul fans and players -- a collective catharsis for the institution.

“Honestly, it was a lot of years, a lot of finals that we hadn’t been able to win, but today we lifted a lot of pressure and hopefully more trophies will follow,” captain Gerardo Torrado said in a TV interview after the game.

The celebrations of the players and the fact that angry Atlante fans invaded the pitch at the Estadio Andres Quintana Roo, showed there was something important at stake.

“It’s a precious feeling, being champion is special, above all because a psychological trauma had built up, and we broke it,” Cruz Azul sporting director Alberto Quintano said.

In Mexico City’s Benito Juarez airport, over 500 fans gathered to welcome the team back with raucous scenes. Though supporters of other clubs joked about the supposed “Mickey Mouse” nature of the Copa MX, everyone would’ve loved her club to be in the same situation.

As the above quotes suggest, the biggest thing for Cruz Azul is what the cup win will have done for confidence and whether in five or 10 years it will be seen as a one-off or the moment that Cruz Azul turned it around.

The historic omens look good. La Maquina’s first real trophy was the Mexican domestic cup back in 1969. After winning it, the Mexico City side, owned by a cement company, went on to dominate domestic and continental soccer.

Seven league titles came in the following 11 years, as well as a hat trick of victories between 1969-71 in the predecessor to the CONCACAF Champions League. Indeed, in 1969, Cruz Azul won the league, cup and continental title – the only Mexican club ever to achieve such a treble. It even repeated the same feat in 1997.

Obviously, that kind of success is still a long way off. First up is making the liguilla. Cruz Azul currently sits in ninth place, but is just one point off the playoff spots. Saturday’s game against Club Tijuana is vital, with Toluca away to follow, then Santos Laguna at home and a difficult trip to Monterrey to finish up the regular season.

But the bottom line is that if the players can pull off three victories, Cruz Azul is pretty much in the playoffs.

After that, the pressure is off. Unlike any other Liga MX club, Cruz Azul already has a trophy already in the cabinet this season.

“It was an important step for the club, the fans and the players so that they have the security to confront what is coming,” summed up coach Guillermo Vazquez on arrival back in Mexico City.

If Cruz Azul can make the Copa MX a short-term springboard to some good form, no-one will be wanting to play them if it does get into the postseason. That certainly hasn’t been the case in recent years.

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