Eight months ago, Cruz Azul suffered the worst loss in its history and the Cementeros are still nursing the wounds from the 7-0 beatdown at the hands of bitter rivals América.
Tonight, the two Mexico City clubs return to the scene of the crime – Estadio Azteca – and “La Máquina Azul” is determined to demonstrate that they are not afraid of the Aguilas.
Meanwhile, over at Coapa, “los Azulcremas” are downplaying the backyard brawl, with América coach Fernando Ortiz even going so far as to say he doesn’t consider the game against Cruz Azul to be a “Clásico.”
(The Aguilas-Cementeros contest is referred to as the “Clásico Joven” in recognition of the fact that the América-UNAM clash – aka the “Clásico Capitalino” – is a year older.)
Cruz Azul on the upswing
Whereas last season’s contest – the 187th “Junior Classic” – saw Cruz Azul in a race to the bottom, América was in the middle of a 9-game win streak that boosted the Birds into the No. 1 playoff seed.
After that 7-0 humiliation, the Cementeros found themselves in 17th place and management fired coach Diego Aguirre.
Raúl Gutiérrez stepped into the breach and helped “La Máquina” turn things around, recovering to claim a wildcard berth.
Prior to the Clausura 2023, “El Potro” led Cruz Azul to a 2-1 victory over América en route to the championship of the preseason Copa Sky tournament. But that was little more than a friendly, and the hardware did not prevent the Cementeros from dismissing Gutiérrez in February after a 0-1-4 start.
Under new coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, Cruz Azul has bounced back, climbing into 8th place. The Blue Machine is unbeaten in its last five matches and is showing greater tactical discipline.
América chasing title No. 14
Across town, América is eager to make up for last season’s playoff collapse (ousted in the semifinals by 6th seed Toluca) and is once again pursuing its record 14th Liga MX championship.
Boasting the league’s highest-scoring offense (31 goals), the third-place Aguilas might not get seven past Jesús Corona (the veteran goalie was injured and unavailable for last season’s meeting), but they will be confident they can penetrate the Cruz Azul defense.
MVP candidate Henry Martín leads the potent attack, joined by Diego Valdés, Jonathan Rodríguez (a former Cementero) and Alejandro Zendejas.
Backstopping the Aguilas is Luis Malagón and though Cruz Azul does not feature a high-flying attack, the América defense has had its share of issues. As such, the Aguilas will try to bottle up Carlos Rodríguez, Cruz Azul’s creative midfielder, and prevent him from releasing Uriel Antuna, Rodolfi Rotondi et al into dangerous areas behind the back line.
Another consideration is that América will be without coach Ortiz who’ll be serving the second of a two-game suspension for a sideline fight with León coach Nicolás Larcamón.
Recent trend favors … ?
With the 7-0 rout still fresh in everybody’s mind (sorry Cruz Azul fans), the tendency is to talk about América’s dominance over the Cementeros. However, heading into last August’s encounter “La Máquina Azul” had not lost to the Aguilas in a regular-season game since March 2018, posting a 3-5-0 record until last season’s disastrous performance.
So the narrative that América is Cruz Azul’s “daddy” is a bit confusing. Even Cruz Azul legend Carlos Hermosillo “confirmed” the story line to be true. (Let’s not forget, Hermosillo came out of the América academy system so he is not 100% blue-blooded despite his status as the best goal-scorer in Cementeros history.)
Of course, the Liga MX playoffs are another story. América has dominated their city rivals, eliminating them in six consecutive postseason meetings dating back to 1999. And two of those defeats came in Liga MX Finals (Clausura 2013, Apertura 2018), particularly bitter memories for our Cruz Azul friends.
Overall (friendlies included), América leads the all-time rivalry with 67 wins, 64 draws and 56 losses. In regular-season play, the difference is much closer (37 wins for América, 34 for Cruz Azul and 46 draws).
All this being said, I’m of the mind that we can toss all the records and all the pre-game chatter out the window once the whistle blows. Here’s hoping ref Fernando Guerrero will be up to the task as this game will be a high-intensity affair and neither team will shy away from contact or confrontation.