Hot Stove League, Liga MX-style: The Big Four

The Chivas will take the field at Estadio Azteca under the leadership of interim coach Marcelo Michel Leaño. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images)
The Chivas will take the field at Estadio Azteca under the leadership of interim coach Marcelo Michel Leaño. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
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Liga MX Hot Stove League Big 4
Santiago Giménez and Cruz Azul might still be in a state of shock when the Clausura 2021 kicks off Friday night. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

Embarrassed Cementeros must pick up the pieces

Cruz Azul was having a fantastic 2020 until things simply blew apart. The Cementeros were in first place when the Clausura 2020 was canceled, then won the Copa GNP preseason tournament heading into the Guardianes 2020.

“La Máquina Azul” continued their solid play, climbing to the top of the Liga MX table after Matchday 11. Then, it all collapsed.

Cruz Azul had a disastrous stretch run, losing 4 of its last 6 and scoring only 3 goals to fall into fourth place. Somehow, the Cementeros recovered, swatting aside the Tigres in the quarterfinals thanks to a dominant 3-1 performance on the road in the first leg.

They then destroyed the visiting Pumas 4-0 and were 90 minutes away from the Final only to get mauled in the return match. The Cementeros were eliminated when they conceded a goal in minute 89. It was a stunning turn of events. Coach Robert Siboldi quit a few days later after public criticism from a top club official.

The disaster on the pitch is matched by the mess in the front office which has been in disarray since long-time team president Guillermo Álvarez was charged with corruption and money-laundering charges.

By way of explanation, the Cruz Azul Cement Cooperative owns the soccer team and it is managed by a board of directors. Three former club executives – Álvarez, Víctor Garcés and Federico Sarabia – are now fugitives and a dissident group took charge of the cooperative and the team. But a new team president has yet to be installed and Liga MX does not recognize the board of directors so the new group is limited in what it can do.

This chaos seeped into the coaching search which became a total mess. Top choice Matías Almeyda was too expensive, second choice Hugo Sánchez saw negotiations fall apart amid a flurry of misinformation and reneged offers.

Less than a week before the Clausura 2021 kicks off, Cruz Azul introduced former Puebla manager Juan Reynoso (the club’s fourth choice?) as the new coach. Reynoso was a star defender for the Cementeros when they won the club’s last Liga MX title back in December 1997.

Reynoso becomes the 10th former Cruz Azul player to take charge of the club and he has one mandate – end the team’s 23-year title drought. It’s worth keeping in mind that of the nine previous Cementeros players that later took charge of the team none won a league championship.

The 51-year-old manager had some success at Puebla, leading the low-wage club past high-profile Monterrey in the Guardianes 2020 playoffs before falling short in its bid for a major upset against No. 1 seed León. He’ll have to learn about the Cementeros roster on the fly.

Job 1 will be motivation, especially as the team that collapsed against the Pumas returns virtually intact. How the squad responds to the humiliation of last season will determine how they do in the Clausura 2021.

Two little-used subs have been shown the door. Midfielder Jonathan Borja was released, and forward Pablo Ceppelini seems set to join Boca Juniors after Reynoso told him he would not make the team.

Three loaned-out players were set to return but one – forward Bryan Angulo – is being held in his native Ecuador over a murder investigation. Argentine midfielders Walter Montoya and Guillermo “Pol” Fernández arrived at the club’s La Noria training grounds only Tuesday. “Pol” played well at Boca Juniors and the club is entertaining offers from Spain, while Montoya seems likely to stay with “La Máquina.”

As such, Reynoso’s starting 11 could look quite similar to the line-up preferred by coach Siboldi: Jesús Corona between the pipes with Pablo Aguilar and Julio César Domínguez in central defense; Adrián Aldrete and Juan Escobar at fullback; Luis Romo and Rafa Baca anchoring midfield; Orbelín Pineda, Roberto Alvarado, Jonathan Rodríguez and Santo Giménez in attack.

Cruz Azul has a deep bench, especially on offense, so we’ll get to see if Reynoso is a tinkerer or if he prefers an established line-up. Youngsters Misael Domínguez, Alexis Gutiérrez and Josue Reyes might be given opportunities to claim a spot, while veterans Ignacio Rivero, “Shaggy” Martínez and Yoshimar Yotún (like Reynoso, a Peruvian) are reliable stand-ins.

Forwards Elías Hernández and Milton Caraglio have dealt with injuries the past two seasons and their productivity has declined noticeably, so they might have to deal with being bench-warmers.

dark. Next. Hot Stove League, Liga MX-style: Part Dos

The combination of psychological demoralization and a new system could see the Cementeros stagger at the outset of the Clausura. Then again, they might surge into the playoffs only to disappoint their snake-bitten fans with another late-season collapse.