Pumas, Tuneros fill out Liga MX playoff bracket

Favio Álvarez celebrates after scoring 30 seconds into the second half, a goal that sparked the Pumas' big comeback (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images)
Favio Álvarez celebrates after scoring 30 seconds into the second half, a goal that sparked the Pumas' big comeback (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images) /
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Liga MX M17 final
Juan Reynoso’s tactical decisions this season left a lot to be desired. Cruz Azul now has a tough road to defend its crown. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul staggers to a disappointing eighth-place finish

As much as Juan Reynoso was praised last season for the job he did in guiding Cruz Azul to its first Liga MX title in 23 years, the Pumas game was a microcosm of everything he has done wrong this season.

Hired to take over for Robert Siboldi after the above-mentioned debacle in the semifinals, Reynoso masterfully utilized his deep roster throughout the Guardianes 2021, changing tactics eloquently mid-game while also keeping his players fresh. The strategy worked to the tune of a 13-2-2 record and a waltz through the playoffs. This season, Reynoso’s substitution patterns have seemed mechanical and even predictable.

The result has been a lot of stale play as evidenced by the club’s mediocre record (just 5 wins in 17 games and 8 uninspired draws). No doubt, a championship hangover was partly to blame, but Reynoso’s ineffective tinkering was equally at fault.

The worst part was the coach’s insistence on keeping non-performing players in the rotation. A perfect example is striker Lucas Passerini who was on loan with Atlético de San Luis last season as he was seen as surplus to needs.

Though Passerini did score twice in eight appearances this season, the big forward rarely made positive plays. Against the Pumas Sunday, he was leading a 3-on-1 break in minute 73 with the score tied. Instead of dropping off to either teammate for a 1-on-1 with the goalie, he let fly from 20 meters, squandering a glorious chance to change the outcome.

Even worse, the Cruz Azul coach turned conservative when the Pumas started their comeback, eliciting memories of the infamous loss to América in the Clausura 2013 Final (then-coach Guillermo Vázquez went into a “prevent defense” trying to protect a 2-0 lead in the second half with a man advantage, putting the Cementeros on their heels. The Aguilas took advantage of the lack of offensive initiative, tied the score late, then won on penalties).

Reynoso repeated Vázquez’s error on Sunday, opting for four central defenders in the second half instead of looking for counterattacks against a Pumas team that was desperately chasing goals.

Adding insult to injury, the idea of protecting Pablo Aguilar went for naught. Since Aguilar was sitting on four yellow cards, he did not start. Instead of sticking with his guns and keeping Aguilar on the bench, Reynoso inserted the Paraguayan when the Pumas started their comeback. Sure enough, Aguilar picked up a yellow card and he will have to sit out the wildcard match. That one is definitely on Reynoso.