Less than a month ago, Cruz Azul was floundering in 17th place, coming off a 7-0 humiliation at the hands of bitter rivals América, its beleaguered defense by far the worst in Liga MX.
Five games later, the Cementeros have risen from the dead, climbing into wildcard contention on the back of a 3-1-1 record under the direction of “interim” coach Raúl Gutiérrez.
This sudden reversal of fortunes nearly stalled out Thursday night until two late goals by newcomers Michael Estrada and Alonso Escoboza produced a 2-1 victory over León that boosted Cruz Azul into 10th place with two games remaining.
Still, a spot in the Liga MX playoffs is in no way guaranteed because the club’s goal differential is among the worst in the league thanks to a leaky defense that has allowed 32 goals in 15 matches.
Pumas, Chivas stand between Cruz Azul and Liga MX playoff berth
With 10 minutes remaining at Estadio Azteca on Sept. 15, visiting León led 1-0 (the result of an own goal by youngster Rodrigo Huescas) and the only “Grito” to look forward to was the multi-throated boo being hurled at the home team.
Then up stepped Estrada, an Ecuadorian striker acquired after Matchday 8. The former Toluca player shook off his marker and headed home a cross from Ignacio Rivero and Cruz Azul had tied up the match, a match they had been statistically dominating.
Ten minutes later, with the Cementeros closing in on Rodolfo Cota, Uriel Antuna collected a loose ball wide right and zipped a low cross over several scrambling Esmeraldas defenders where it found the head of Escoboza who redirected it into the back of the net. Escoboza had also joined the Cementeros after Matchday 8.
The result pulled “La Máquina” even with León on 18 points, but trailing thanks to the lousy –10 goal differential.
Cruz Azul will have little time to savor its latest victory as the Matchday 16 calendar has them visiting crosstown rivals UNAM before the FIFA break. The Pumas are 4 points back of Cruz Azul but with a game in hand.
The Cementeros close out their regular season against hard-charging Guadalajara on Oct. 1.
Cruz Azul likely has to win both games to secure one of the final wildcard berths especially as the two teams right below them in the table – Necaxa and Puebla – also have a game in hand.
If “The Blue Machine” is able to sneak into the playoffs, coach Gutiérrez will have made a strong case for the front office to remove the “interim” label and install him as the full-time manager. However, the front office is the primary reason that Cruz Azul finds itself in its current predicament, so there is little reason to believe they’ll demonstrate wisdom in the future.