Assessing Atlas, Cruz Azul after Liga MX Super Cup

Santiago Gimenez got his head on a corner kick before Atlas goalie Camilo Vargas (in orange) could get there, resulting in Cruz Azul's game-tying goal just before halftime in the Liga MX Super Cup. Cruz Azul won in a penalty shoot-out. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Santiago Gimenez got his head on a corner kick before Atlas goalie Camilo Vargas (in orange) could get there, resulting in Cruz Azul's game-tying goal just before halftime in the Liga MX Super Cup. Cruz Azul won in a penalty shoot-out. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Atlas Cruz Azul preview
Cruz Azul players hold up the Liga MX Super Cup trophy in celebration after defeating Atlas in a penalty shoot-out on Sunday. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul claimed the first trophy of the Apertura 2022, defeating two-time Liga MX champion Atlas on penalty kicks to win the first-ever Super Cup.

Julián Quiñones scored the equalizer in minute 90+1 to force the shootout, but then missed the decisive spot kick, allowing the Cementeros to hoist the all-new hardware.

Cruz Azul coach Diego Aguirre made his Liga MX debut in winning fashion thanks to the 4-3 shoot-out victory which followed the 2-2 draw. Cementeros winger Ángel Romero was named Super Cup MVP after assisting on the first goal, scoring the second and converting the first penalty.

The Super Cup was invented to replace the Champions Cup (Campeón de Campeones, in Spanish) which pits the previous two Liga MX champs in a summer playoff match. But since Atlas won the past two Liga MX titles, they were awarded the Champions Cup. The Super Cup was quickly created with Cruz Azul selected as the Cementeros were the last league winners prior to the Zorros going back-to-back.

Liga MX champs suffer from short preseason

With the Apertura 2022 telescoped into a smaller window so as to finish the season before the November World Cup in Qatar, Atlas had an especially short vacation.

The Zorros won the Clausura 2022 title on May 29, and only returned to training two weeks ago. The front office has barely had time to evaluate the roster and identify team needs. The priority for the Liga MX champs will be to bolster the bench as Diego Cocca had to make do with few options for late-game subs.

Four players were released (only one starter – Jairo Torres – and the winger actually left to join MLS club Chicago Fire before the playoffs even started) and two players have been brought on board – Peru international Edison Flores (D.C. United) and fullback Idekel Domínguez (Necaxa).

Flores figures to see plenty of action as a playmaker on the wing (his debut Sunday was marred when he missed his penalty shot during the shoot-out) while Domínguez saw his chances of contributing increase after left fullback Diego Barbosa went down with what looked like a serious knee injury late against Cruz Azul.

Atlas is said to be looking for another playmaker in midfield (Monterrey’s Alfonso González is on the wish list) and another forward (Tijuana’s Mauro Manotas has been mentioned). The Liga MX champs must also weigh offers for Julián Quiñones and captain Aldo Rocha though selling off their midfield general is seen as unlikely.

Cementeros ready to challenge for Liga MX crown?

Cruz Azul enters the new Liga MX season with expectations despite plenty of question marks.

“La Máquina” had arguably the deepest roster in the league last season, but underachieved. The Cementeros finished the Clausura 2022 in the middle of the pack then bowed out meekly in the quarterfinals. The misuse of a talented roster is the principal reason Juan Reynoso was let go.

New manager Diego Aguirre takes over expecting an upgrade after the front office allowed two veteran defenders – Pablo Aguilar and Adrián Aldrete – to depart.

The Uruguayan head man has also asked for some scoring punch knowing that the Cementeros had great difficulty finding the net last season. But better use of the personnel on hand – finding a successful line-up and rotation and sticking with it would be a good first step – should by itself be enough for a return to the Liga MX playoffs.

Aguirre’s first moves indicate some faith in the youngsters on the roster. The Cementeros handed over the team’s No. 9 jersey to 21-year-old Santi Giménez, an academy product whose teased the fans with flashes of untapped potential. A good season for “Chaquito” could earn him a spot on Mexico’s World Cup roster.

Precocious goalkeeper Sebastián Jurado last week was named the team’s starting goalie. The 24-year-old netminder will try to fill the shoes of the legendary “Chuy” Corona who might be moved to another team before the transfer window shuts. Jurado played 11 games last season in place of the injured Corona, including all three playoff matches. He conceded 7 goals in his three regular-season games and allowed 2 balls to get behind him in the playoffs.

The front office is not standing pat, however, and Argentine winger Carlos Rotondi, 25, is reportedly on his way to La Noria. Another target is 22-year-old defender Bruno Méndez, a Uruguayan who played last season for Brazil’s Inter de Porto Alegre.

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And finally, Cruz Azul got a boost Sunday night as Carlos Rodríguez returned to action for the first time since breaking his leg on April 8. The dynamic midfielder looked sharp in limited action and he appears ready to take on some playmaking duties which is especially good news for El Tri as he is expected to make the trip to Qatar.