The Cruz Azul two-step: One step forward and one step backward

Never a dull moment with the Cementeros who've had an up-and-down start to Liga MX season
With the expected departure of defender Juan Escobar (above), only one starter (Ignacio Rivero) from the 2021 Liga MX championship side remains with Cruz Azul.
With the expected departure of defender Juan Escobar (above), only one starter (Ignacio Rivero) from the 2021 Liga MX championship side remains with Cruz Azul. / Jam Media/GettyImages

The opening week of the Clausura 2024 has been a mixed bag for Cruz Azul. So, what do you want first Cementeros Nation? The good news or the bad news?

“La Máquina Azul” kicked of the Liga MX season with a home loss to Pachuca, but the atmosphere at the Ciudad de los Deportes Stadium makes this an item for the Good News column.

Five years after leaving the 87-year-old arena dubbed Estadio Azul to be a second-class tenant at Estadio Azteca, the Cementeros returned to what had been their home for 22 years (1996-2018). 

The aging grounds had seen Cruz Azul hoist its 8th Liga MX title in December 1997 as well as play (and lose) five other finals. It had become a beloved fortress for Cementeros Nation, and fans had become more nostalgic for it as they never felt fully welcome at Estadio Azteca.

Welcome home, Blue Machine!

It was no surprise that the season opener attracted so much attention from the Cementeros faithful. 

The stands were a sea of blue-and-white and the 26,000+ in attendance were in full throat, just like those memorable nights in 2008 and 2009 when Cruz Azul reached three Liga MX finals in four seasons.

The attendance was significantly more than each of the previous four season openers at Estadio Azteca.

Management was thus encouraged by the response and the overall atmosphere – despite the uncompleted renovations – that they are said to be considering making the move to Avenida Insurgentes Sur more permanent instead of returning to the Coloso de Santa Ursula after the 2026 World Cup.

The flip side of the coin

Cruz Azul fans were none too happy with the decision to get rid of team captain Juan Escobar, especially some new details about his tiff with new coach Martín Anselmi were leaked. Chants of “Escobar! Escobar!” were audible throughout the game.

Fans at the Pachuca match let it be known that they backed the man who wore the famous blue jersey for more than 13,000 minutes across 163 games since arriving to La Noria in 2019. Escobar scored 14 goals and added 11 assists from his spot on the defensive line and was a key cog in the 2021 squad that claimed the club’s ninth Liga MX championship.

The skipper and Anselmi had words after a preseason match two weeks ago and the coach demanded that Escobar be traded. Initial reports suggested the Paraguayan back-liner was pissed that he did not get the start, which, even if true, hardly seemed like a firing offense.

Still, Escobar was removed from the team and his agent has been shopping the center back, his departure virtually assured.

Then word leaked that the argument was over Anselmi’s preferential treatment of new arrivals – specifically fellow South Americans – at the expense of veteran holdovers and academy youngsters.

On Wednesday, Escobar posted a cryptic comment on his social media account, accusing unnamed people of lying and twisting the truth. Regardless of whether or not the former captain elaborates or if management interrogates the new coach, it seems certain that Escobar’s days with “La Máquina” are indeed over.

But the 28-year-old might remain in Liga MX. Cruz Azul has been approached by Toluca, Santos Laguna and UNAM with all three teams eager to add a quality defender to their line-up.

And returning to the Cruz Azul locker room …

With Escobar leaving a roster vacancy, new GM Iván Alonso has apparently decided that there is space for Carlos Salcedo after all.

Cruz Azul had arranged to send the controversial defender to FC Juárez, but the talks collapsed. Still, Salcedo was led to believe that he would not be on the team this season.

Now suddenly there is a need for a veteran back-liner to provide roster depth.

Of course, his return might not be too smooth after published reports that Salcedo is the man who talked Alexis Vega out of accepting a move to Cruz Azul. 

Vega – already reluctant to sign a contract with several punitive clauses – reached out to Salcedo who told the troubled Chivas winger that the Cementeros organization was a disaster. Vega promptly scuttled the deal.

A quick look at the Cementeros transfer activity

Despite the potential locker room turmoil and a few swings and misses, Cruz Azul has done a rather decent job restocking for the Clausura 2024.

After finishing well down the Liga MX table last season and with a front office in chaos, the Cementeros really have nowhere to go but up.

Still fans had to wonder about the decision to name Alonso as team president and GM after Pachuca – his former employer – suggested he not be hired. Reports emerged that the Tuzos had fired Alonso for allegedly skimming money off transactions.

Despite the doubts, the roster rebuild has been positive.

Out went forwards Diber Cambindo (to Necaxa) and Moisés Vieira (to Brazil's Fortaleza), as well as midfielder Kevin Castaño (to Russia's Krasnodar).

The sale of Castaño – at three times the value of his acquisition on six months earlier – helpd pay the bill for new striker Gabriel Fernández. And Alonso basically broke even on the Moisés transaction.

"La Máquina" bolstered its defense (even with the departure of Escobar) by bringing in veterans Gonzalo Piovi and Camilo Cándido, and also added reliable midfield help in Lorenzo Faravelli.

The club also addressed goalkeeping concerns, signing promising Colombia netminder Kevin Mier and also roping in an up-and-coming youngster in Necaxa's Luis Gim

Next. Pair of El Tri legends could be on the move. Pair of El Tri legends could be on the move. dark

The Cementeros are likely not done wheeling-and-dealing as Monterrey's midfield playmaker Arturo González is on their wish list.