Scrappy Pumas earn draw; Cementeros drop points

Cruz Azul players trudge off the field after settling for a draw against Mazatlán FC. (Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul players trudge off the field after settling for a draw against Mazatlán FC. (Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Pumas, Cruz Azul
Jorge Ruvalcaba gets a big hug from coach Andrés Lillini after scoring his first Liga MX goal to earn a tie for the Pumas on Friday night. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

The Pumas and Cruz Azul “prepared” for the second leg of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal clash by resting starters in their Liga MX appointments on Friday night.

While the Pumas’ back-ups hustled and battled, forging a late tie on the road at Puebla, the Cementeros played with little sense of urgency, settling for a tie at lowly Mazatlán FC.

The draw prevented “La Máquina” from climbing into a tie for third place and kept Juan Reynoso’s team in fifth place pending Saturday night’s results. The poor display hurt the club’s chances at claiming a Top 4 spot and a first-round playoff bye

UNAM remains in ninth place but could drop a couple spots by the end of the weekend. Still, “Los Felinos” remain serious contenders for a wildcard spot in the 12-team Liga MX postseason bracket.

A study in contrasts

Pumas coach Andrés Lillini does not have much depth to begin with and the host Camoteros were eager to get back on the winning track. So initially, it seemed as though UNAM had sacrificed its Liga MX prospects in order to focus on ConcaChampions and the 2-1 lead it would have to protect at Estadio Azteca on Tuesday night.

The Pumas fell behind by two goals to Puebla before the break, but Rogerio cut the deficit in half when he converted a nifty pass from Diogo in minute 45+1. Then just 5 minutes before the final whistle, 20-year-old Jorge Ruvalcaba slotted home the equalizer, his first goal in Liga MX in only his fourth game since making his senior team debut on Jan. 11.

For the second straight time at home, Puebla had coughed up a two-goal lead and is now winless in its last four. The Camoteros opened the Clausura 2022 by going unbeaten through Matchday 9 (6-3-0) – the last Liga MX team to lose – but have been stuck in neutral since, falling from first to third.

Meanwhile, Cruz Azul’s highly touted roster submitted a lackluster performance against Liga MX minnows Mazatlán FC. The Cementeros were outplayed for large sections of the game, too often appearing disorganized at the back and out of position in midfield.

That old bugaboo … lousy Liga MX officiating

Coach Reynoso was also furious at the indifferent performance of referee Erick Yair Miranda who allowed the Cañoneros to push around the visitors throughout the first half. Even worse, Miranda forgave Jefferson Intriago a clear red card when he scythed down Charlie Rodríguez in minute 25. Rodríguez – a key player in Cruz Azul’s midfield – was forced off with a lower leg injury and his availability for Tuesday’s big match is in doubt.

Midway through the second half, Miranda again looked the other way when Intriago hauled off and punched Angel Romero in the small of the back as Romero dribbled past him in midfield. The ref did call the foul, but Intriago’s cynical foul should have earned a second yellow and an expulsion (it could have even merited a straight red card, if you want to be honest).

The substandard officiating that plagues Liga MX was also evident in Puebla where a studs-up tackle on midfielder Leo López left the Pumas star with a gash on his lower shin. Referee Brian Omar González consulted the video replay but decided against issuing a red card to Puebla’s Guillermo Martínez.

After Friday’s results, the Pumas are likely to arrive at Estadio Azteca brimming with confidence (assuming goalie Alfredo Talavera is fit) and prepared to scratch and claw for 90 minutes, while Cruz Azul remains an anomaly.

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Despite loads of talent at his disposal, coach Reynoso does not seem to have the attention of his men whose commitment and intensity can rightfully be questioned. At times, the Cementeros lack energy and appear to lose concentration, but the coach’s tactical alignments sometimes seem misguided. Not a good combination for a team that is striving for Liga MX and Concacaf hardware.