With less than a week before the Apertura 2023 kicks off in Estadio Azteca, Liga MX clubs continue to reshape their locker rooms, especially Cruz Azul.
Pachuca – not even eight months removed from hoisting the Liga MX trophy after the Apertura 2022 season – has shuffled its attacking pieces, sending forward Avilés Hurtado to FC Juárez and winger Romario Ibarra to Spain’s Oviedo. This after the Tuzos acquired strikers Lucas di Yorio (from León) and Federico Viñas (from América).
FC Juárez expects to have room up front for Hurtado (and Spaniard Aitor García) as they try to move Gabriel “Toro” Fernández to UNAM. The Bravos are also close to adding goalie Sebastián Jurado (from Cruz Azul) as the heir apparent to veteran keeper Alfredo Talavera.
The other border team in Liga MX – Tijuana – has been active as well. The Xolos have added a player to each line: striker Carlos González (from Toluca), midfielder Fernando Madrigal (from Necaxa) fullback Diego Barbosa (from Atlas) and netminder Jesús Corona (from Cruz Azul).
Lots of wheeling and dealing in La Noria
One team that has been manning the phones constantly – though not always effectively, if you listen to the coach and the GM – is Cruz Azul.
“La Máquina Azul” has not been running on all cylinders since winning the Liga MX title just four seasons ago. The front office has been in disarray (you can read our 7-part series entitled “Deconstructing Cruz Azul” for details) and four coaches have cycled through the locker room since August of last year.
With legendary manager Ricardo Ferretti now in charge, you’d think things would be on the mend. Well, you might be wrong. That’s because team president Víctor Velázquez is making personnel decisions without consulting his coach or his general manager, a situation that has infuriated the notoriously cantankerous Ferretti.
It didn’t help that a couple promising transactions collapsed. Veteran defender Matheus Doria and callow striker Eduardo Aguirre appeared to be signed, sealed and delivered last month … until team doctors raised questions about their physicals. Doria and Aguirre were returned to Santos Laguna in early June, prompting the Brazilian defender to warn Cementeros Nation: “We’ll see you on Matchday 4 and then we’ll see who’s injured and who’s not.”
But when Velázquez engineered the acquisition of two unknowns, Ferretti arched an eyebrow (and probably let loose with an expletive or two) because neither player was on his wish list. Colombian striker Diber Cambindo is now on the Cruz Azul roster as is his countryman, midfielder Kevin Castaño.
Earlier this week, Velázquez confirmed that “Tuca” had asked for three additional reinforcements, though he did not guarantee that he would comply. However, he quickly filled one of the requests and now Jesús Dueñas will move to La Noria from FC Juárez.
Dueñas will reunite with Ferretti for whom he has played at Tigres (where they won five Liga MX titles together) and FC Juárez. And Dueñas will see a familiar face in the locker room: defender Carlos Salcedo who also played for Ferretti at Tigres (winning one Liga MX title) and FC Juárez.
Cruz Azul still chasing a few targets
One of the players Ferretti has asked for is striker Alan Pulido (yet another protege: Pulido played under “Tuca” for seven seasons at the beginning of his career).
Cruz Azul has made a significant offer for the Sporting KC star, but the MLS club is negotiating a contract extension while Guadalajara is begging the former Chivas hero to show some loyalty to the colors (he led Liga MX in scoring his final season with “El Rebaño Sagrado” and won a title with them in 2017). Pulido said he’ll announce his decision in early July.
The other player on Ferretti’s wish list is Colombian defender Willer Ditta who plays for Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina. Some reports suggest the 26-year-old is close to signing with Cruz Azul, while others say the talks are still ongoing.
There have been no shortage of rumors floating around, especially because it remains unclear just who is running the front office.
GM Oscar Pérez was already being frozen out when word leaked that former GM Jaime Ordiales was back with the club even though he was a prime contributor to the dysfunction and a popular target of fan vitriol.
There were whispers that the Cementeros were taking a look at defender Nicolás Freire although he has been accused of causing unrest in the Pumas locker room.
There were also some departures …
So while Ferretti waits to see what his final roster will look like, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention there was rather significant house-cleaning carried out that made room for the acquisitions mentioned above.
Three long-time Cementeros – goalie and captain Jesús Corona (14 years), midfielder Rafa Baca (nine years) and academy product Julio César Domínguez (17 years) – were released during the offseason. Corona now calls Tijuana home, Domínguez will play defense for Atlético de San Luis this season, while Baca remains unsigned.
Also departing were forwards Michael Estrada, Iván Morales and Gonzalo Carneiro (both given outright releases), defenders José “Shaggy” Martínez (a fan favorite) and Ramiro Funes Mori (both out of contract), and little used left back Jaiber Jiménez.
In addition, forward Ramiro Carrera returned home to Argentina where he’ll play for Atlético Tucumán, defender Jordan Silva was sold to Atlético de San Luis and midfielder Misael Domínguez was shipped to Necaxa.
As you can see, Cruz Azul fans might need a game program magazine to recognize who is wearing the club’s new blue kits this season. And since the transfer market remains open through August, who knows how much more wheeling and dealing might take place in La Noria.