After quick return to prominence, Cruz Azul looks to load up for title run

After 16th-place finish in AP23, new coach Martín Anselmi led Cementeros to Liga MX final
Martín Anselmi guided Cruz Azul to the Liga MX finals in his first season on the job. What will the Cementeros do for an encore?
Martín Anselmi guided Cruz Azul to the Liga MX finals in his first season on the job. What will the Cementeros do for an encore? / Jam Media/GettyImages

Under the direction of Iván Alonso and Martín Anselmi, Cruz Azul’s rebuild progressed a lot more quickly than anybody anticipated.

Alonso was hired as general manager last December and club management was immediately questioned about the wisdom of such a move as rumors akin to character assassination swirled about.

The new GM then hired the little-known Anselmi who had enjoyed considerable success at Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle where he won four titles. 

Shortly after his arrival, Anselmi had a run-in with popular team captain Juan Escobar and the Paraguayan defender was put on the trade block, eventually sold to Toluca. 

Cementeros Nation climbs on board the wagon

After Cruz Azul lost its season opener — at its new temporary home – then played a scoreless draw against lowly FC Juárez, there was some grumbling among the fan base. 

After a 16th-place finish in the Apertura 2023, it figured to be a tough slog back to respectability.

But then things started to click and Anselmi’s high-risk, attacking style started winning admirers. And a reconfigured back line was as dangerous when moving forward as it was in cleaning up in front of new goalie Kevin Mier.

“La Máquina Azul” put together a six-game win streak to climb into the upper echelons of the Liga MX table and stayed there. The Cementeros ended the regular season with the second-best defense in Liga MX then manhandled playoff nemesis UNAM in the quarterfinals.

Anselmi & Co edged past Monterrey to reach its first Liga MX finals since winning its most recent title in 2021, but came up short against the defending Liga MX champs, América.

Cruz Azul has something to build on

The first order of business for Alonso was signing Mier to a contract extension. Rumors had the talented Colombian netminder moving to the English Premier League, but the Cementeros’ success convinced the 24-year-old keeper to stay in Liga MX.

Alonso might need to find another right fullback as academy product Rodrigo Huescas drew considerable attention with his steady performances. The 20-year-old has been linked to NEC Nijmegen so he could find himself in the Eredivisie this summer.

Whereas the defense needs just a bit of tweaking, it’s in attack that work has to be done.

Cruz Azul scored just 23 goals in 17 regular season games and found the net just three times in its four final games (the semifinals and finals).

Anselmi relied on a 4-5-1 formation much of the season but could not settle on a striker to lead the attack. Down the stretch, Uriel Antuna – a winger – got the nod to start at the point.

The Cementeros also lacked in creativity in midfield where much of the responsibility fell on Carlos Rodríguez.

Rest assured, the front office has not been twiddling its thumbs since the season ended.

This week, Greek striker Giōrgos Giakoumakīs is expected at La Noria to sign a four-year deal.

Giakoumakīs, 29, is a proven scorer. He led the Eredivisie in goals (with 26) in 2020-2021, then spent two seasons with Scottish giants Celtic (19 goals in 40 games) before moving to Atlanta United in MLS. Giakoumakīs scored 17 goals (second-most in MLS) last year and had 5 goals in 8 games this year when the transfer was announced.

Alonso has also been recruiting midfielders, holding talks with Andrés Montaño and Amaury García.

Alonso has also been recruiting midfielders, holding talks with Andrés Montaño and Amaury García.

Montaño, 22, is coming off a breakout season with Mazatlán FC and he is currently training with El Tri ahead of the Copa América. It appears that Montaño is impressed with the Cruz Azul offer, but his agent has been in contact with Celtic, so the Cementeros are forced into a wait-and-see posture.

García, also 22, is a Pumas academy product but is a bit raw, so he would likely serve as depth while learning the Anselmi system.

This week, pundits, wits and wags have started to circulate a story that midfield playmaker Orbelín Pineda could return to the fold. Pineda, 28, left the Cementeros on a free transfer in January 2022 and now plays for Greek side AEK Athens.

Pineda helped Cruz Azul win the Liga MX title three years ago and his would be a wildly popular return for Cementeros fans.

If Alonso is able to bring in Montaño and Pineda, he likely would only need to tinker a little but with defensive depth, especially a defensive midfielder. Anselmi often opted for a five-man back line with central defender Carlos Salcedo serving as a defensive mid.

With a natural defensive midfielder in camp, Salcedo could return to his back-line role, serving as back-up to Willer Ditta and Gonzalo Piovi


Management has just four weeks until the season kicks off so it behooves Alonso to get some signatures on contracts sooner rather than later.