Resilient Cruz Azul withstand intense second-half pressure to claim 1-0 win

Stingy Cementeros defense allows Rodolfo Rotondi's first-half goal to stand up
Cruz Azul's Rodolfo Rotondi pumps his fist after scoring his team's only goal against Monterrey in their Liga MX semifinal. The Cementeros will take a 1-0 advantage into Sunday's second leg at home.
Cruz Azul's Rodolfo Rotondi pumps his fist after scoring his team's only goal against Monterrey in their Liga MX semifinal. The Cementeros will take a 1-0 advantage into Sunday's second leg at home. / Azael Rodriguez/GettyImages

Rodolfo Rotondi finished a clever Cruz Azul move forward by ripping a one-timer past Esteban Andrada and that 34th-minute goal stood up to give the Cementeros a 1-0 win over Monterrey in their Liga MX semifinal series.

Winger Uriel Antuna created space along the right sideline then cut back a pass to Lorenzo Faravelli who spun toward the box and chipped a pass to Alexis Gutiérrez just above the penalty spot.

With his back to goal, Guti held off a defender then dropped a pass off to his right. Rotondi ran onto the ball and zipped a low shot with his non-dominant right foot inside the far post.

Andrada did make five saves on the night, including a splendid reflex save off a close-range Gutiérrez header in minute 62.

A game of two halves

Other than Luis Romo’s nifty move into the box in minute 30 that forced a save by Kevin Mier, Monterrey had little to say in the first half despite hosting the first leg.

Both teams opened the game with great intensity, but Cruz Azul gradually took control. The Cementeros lacked crispness initially, but their passing got crisper after minute 20.

The rest of the half, “La Máquina Azul” constantly revved its engine up with constant measured movements abetted by great spacing and clever runs between the Monterrey lines.

As Cruz Azul flowed into the Rayados half, down the wings and through the middle, a goal seemed inevitable. And thus it was, Rotondi's goal coming just 4 minutes after Mier's save on Romo.

The hosts came out of the locker room after the break playing bully ball, throwing their weight around. Ref Daniel Quintero angrily scolded Romo after a hard, late tackle, but Monterrey was setting the tone.

The changes coach Fernando Ortiz made – bringing on striker Brandon Vazquez and Jordi Cortizo – paid immediate dividends with much of the second half played in the Cruz Azul side of the pitch.

By the end of the game, the Rayados had a 59% to 41% advantage in possession but couldn’t convert the chances created, partly because of a hustling 10-man defensive effort by the 2nd-seeded Cementeros.

Cruz Azul defenders blocked three shots right off the foot of a Monterrey player in scoring position in the game’s final 15 minutes, frustrating promising moved by the 4th-seeded Rayados.

The Cementeros then began relying on a “thump it long” clearance strategy to relieve the growing pressure. The visitors were scrambling to cover up for teammates, desperately trying to slow down the inexorable Rayados advance.

On the right side, Monterrey sub “Tecatito” Corona wreaked havoc, spinning defenders around and sending crosses into the box. In minute 77, Corona brought down a long ball and eluded Camilo Cándido in one smooth move, but his firm centering pass was a fraction behind the onrushing Vazquez who was unable to redirect the ball on net.

Monterrey spent the final 15 minutes probing the Cruz Azul defense, finding cracks but unable to react before the hole was closed down.

The Rayados had five second-half corners and several free kick opportunities, only coming close on one. And that came in stoppage time when Mier was too casual on a long Sergio Canales free kick from the right sideline. 

The normally reliable Cruz Azul goalie non-chalanted the cross, the ball slipping through his hands before it caromed off the back post. An alert Carlos Salcedo mopped up Mier’s mistake with a quick clearance.

Low-scoring Liga MX semifinals

Just one goal has been scored halfway through the Liga MX semifinals. The Cementeros’ 1-0 road victory Thursday night came 24 hours after top-seeded América and 6th-seeded Guadalajara played to a scoreless draw.

Stingy defensive play should be no surprise to Liga MX fans as these semifinals feature the four best defenses in the league.

The Aguilas – the defending Liga MX champs – were the league’s No. 1 defense (12 goals allowed) while Cruz Azul boasted the second-best defense (14 goals allowed). 

Not to be outdone, the Chivas allowed the third-fewest goals in Liga MX (17) this season and have shut out their opponents in six straight games.


On the other hand, despite being the fourth-best defense (19 goals allowed), Monterrey has allowed at least one goal in their past 15 contests in all competitions.