When it comes to the four semifinalists in Mexico, in many ways Monarcas Morelia are the odd team out. The club certainly doesn't have the championship pedigree, big city status, or national fan support of the other three remaining teams – Chivas, Pumas, and Cruz Azul. Despite all this, the Morelia players – especially with their play over the past month – have more than proved they belong here on Mexico's biggest stage.
Monarcas roll into the semifinals as the highest scoring squad in the league, and the only team to win both games in the opening round of the playoffs. On Thursday night, Morelia look to keep the run alive as they open semifinal play on the road against Cruz Azul.
Despite Cruz Azul’s victory over Atlante in the first round, la Maquina’s form has left much to be desired in recent weeks. In fact, Cruz Azul earned a victory in just one out of their six league games played during the month of April. And one of their losses that month came at home to Morelia. In that match it was Morelia’s Elias Hernandez scoring in stoppage time to earn the road victory. It was a statement win for Morelia, showing that they have no fear playing big teams on the road. Again we return to Estadio Azul on Thursday night. If Morelia can pull out another victory on Cruz Azul’s turf, it will leave their opponents with little to no hope in Sunday’s return leg at Estadio Morelos.
Monarcas have been led in recent weeks by young midfielder Joao Rojas. The Ecuadorian had two assists in the first leg, followed by two goals in the second leg against America last week. Cruz Azul also must deal with the aforementioned Elias Hernandez, who scored twice against them back in April, as well as Morelia’s team scoring leader Rafael Marquez Lugo. Adding to this already impressive lineup will be veteran Miguel Sabah, who should return from injury after not appearing in the first round series against America.
If Cruz Azul cannot find a way to slow down the potent Morelia attack, then look out. A result in the first leg at home is imperative for la Maquina, because as the higher seeded team, all Morelia needs is an aggregate draw to advance to the finals. That would be somewhat new territory, as Morelia have only appeared in the league finals three times in club history. The team has just one championship (coming in 2000), a far cry for the packed trophy cases at the other semifinal clubs. While Morelia have just the one, Chivas, Pumas, and Cruz Azul have 25 league championships combined. As Cruz Azul fans know, past trophies don’t win results on the field, though. This season, if they can maintain their current scoring form, it may just be Morelia’s time to shine.
Watch the first leg, Cruz Azul vs. Monarcas Morelia, at 10pm est on TV Azteca.