Puebla and Cruz Azul will open their Liga MX season on Friday as they meet in Puebla. Puebla might be the home team, but all eyes will be on Cruz Azul as they hope to bounce back from a bitter ending to last season’s Liga MX final against their biggest rival America. While fans were definitely disappointed with the result, they can look forward to this season, especially since Cruz Azul continued going all out in the offseason with sports director Ricardo Pelaez leaving his mark since coming into the team this past summer.
Cruz Azul was largely the best team during the 2018 Apertura. They were on top of the leader board for the majority of the regular season and the move to Estadio Azteca had been a total success in terms of crowds, although not so much in field conditions. Cruz Azul finished the regular season at number one and were the favorites to win it all. Then the Liguilla happened and they started to flounder. They did manage to get to the final, but did so only by getting through Monterrey in a Semifinal match where it looked like Monterrey could’ had more success if they hadn’t been so defensive. In the final they faced their biggest rivals, America, who were coming in after a crushing victory over the other city rival, Pumas. Suddenly, Cruz Azul didn’t look as the favorite anymore. A tense first leg ended in a scoreless draw but America was able to prevail over an overall disappointing final in terms of level of play and win 2-0. Cruz Azul, who hasn’t won a league title since 1997, went crashing right back into the famous underachiever moniker and became the team with the most losses in finals since the short season format started.
But although things were bleak for Cruz Azul, their fans could look up to the great season they had and the fact that they look to have done a good job in the offseason. Their big signing was Uruguayan young star Jonathan Rodriguez, one of the fastest and best forwards in Liga MX. He had already been key in a title with Santos Laguna and had continued to show good things this past season. Then they added Peruvian international Yoshimar Yotun from Orlando City and culminated with the signing of Orbelin Pineda from Chivas. Pineda had been one of the best Mexican prospects with Chivas but had suffered a dip in form since Chivas league title in 2015, which had him from a National team World Cup contender to not even being in any serious discussion to make the team. If Cruz Azul can get Pineda back to his level, it will have one of the more solid Mexican players, something that Cruz Azul already has experienced in helping ex Chivas players (Marco Fabian being one). Cruz Azul looks set for another season in which they are candidates for big things.
Puebla is the home team but it’s totally overshadowed in this game. They are coming from another typical season in which they failed to make it to the Liguilla with their very limited squad. In the offseason, they made very little moves to change anything, and their only big acquisition was the return of Matias Alustiza, who comes back to Puebla after spells in Atlas and Pumas. Outside of him, the rest are a lot of guys looking to revive their failing careers. Jesus Zavala (ex senior national team player) and Nestor Vidrio (starter with the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal winning U-23 team) are looking for that second wind in their careers and they will go to a place that has some history in cases like that. Still, Puebla will rely on their few stand out players (Lucas Cavallini, Alejandro Chumacero) and hope that Alustiza once again clicks with the team. It might not be enough for a solid season but it could be enough for a win at home. They only need to look at almost exactly a year ago when they defeated defending champions Tigres 2-1 at home and will hope for history to repeat itself.
Date: Friday, January 4
Time: 7:00pm Pacific, 9:00pm Central, 10:00pm Eastern
Venue: Estadio Cuauhtemoc, Puebla, México
TV: Univision Deportes Network (US-Spanish), Azteca 7 (Mexico)
Streaming: fuboTV (Free trial + monthly subscription)