You really just can’t make this up.
Not even the depths of your worst nightmares could create this. Not even the most vile, bloodlust-filled horror movie director could produce a film where the protagonists feel this much pain. Where their supporters feel this much shame, this much betrayal, this much dismay.
Because this, Cruz Azul’s latest “Cruzazuleada”, cannot really be explained normally, which is weird, because all sports can. No matter the storylines, there’s a general explanation for why sports work out the way they do. The participants in sporting events are human after all, and humans can become easy to explain. But this feels different.
Do you believe in curses?
If you don’t know by now, Cruz Azul looked to be one of, if not the, most dangerous team in Liga MX in 2020. They were the top team in last season’s Clausura before a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic cut the season short. They kept things going this season, and although they dropped some spots in the table, they made it into the top 4 and eliminated Tigres UANL handily in the quarterfinals.
After that, they took care of Pumas UNAM, beating them with an embarrassing 4-0 scoreline at home. All looked to be in Cruz Azul’s favor, like it always does, and well, it all came crashing down, like it always does.
YOU CANT MAKE THIS UP LADIES AND GENTLEMEN— FMF State of Mind (@FMFSoM) December 7, 2020
PUMAS 4-0 CRUZ AZUL!!!! pic.twitter.com/93Hmx4WzPD
All Cruz Azul had to do was NOT concede, but perhaps even simpler, all they had to do was score ONCE to gain a crucial away goal that would have put Pumas away for good.
But that didn’t happen. Despite Cruz Azul having the top goalscorer this season, Jonathan Rodriguez, who scored 13 goals in the regular season but just one in the playoffs.
That didn’t happen despite Robert Siboldi’s team having the second-best defense in the regular season. That didn’t happen despite Cruz Azul being seventh-best in the league in terms of xG (expected goals) in away games (1.38) and the third-best in xGA (expected goals against) in away games as well (1.17). Only Leon and Tigres were better at defending goals on the road, according to numbers from FootyStats.
Pumas, despite being above Cruz Azul on the table, were huge underdogs. They played well in the regular season, but hadn’t shown anything brilliant. They drew as many games as they won (8) and were a team without star-caliber players led by a coach in his first job after Spanish gaffer Michel unexpectedly left the club just before this season began.
No one, absolutely no one, had Pumas making a comeback. Not even against Cruz Azul. The hurdle was just too high.
Before the semifinals even kicked off, FiveThirtyEight gave Pumas just a 21% chance of making the final. After the 4-0 trashing in the first leg, the same site gave Los Felinos just a 30% chance of winning the second leg. That means winning 1-0 by the way! A 4-0 Pumas win was almost out of the question.
Now let’s look at Pumas’ goals. Now, yes, the Cruz Azul players deserve 100% of the blame for conceding four, but it’s still unusual how they all went in. The first three goals ALL had a lucky bounce go Pumas’ way. Look at them again. Bad defending? Sure, a little bit. But someone needs to ask a sports statistician what the odds of that are. The last goal, scored by Juan Pablo Vigon, was the only one you could pin on a Cruz Azul defender with confidence, since Pablo Aguilar was lazy with his marking and let the bandage-headed midfielder get in front of him for the tap in.
It wasn’t the goalkeeper’s fault either. Yes, It was shocking to see 23-year-old Sebastian Jurado between the sticks for the first time this year, but according to captain Chuy Corona (aptly named), he tested positive for COVID-19 and picked up a knock on his knee prior to the match, so that was the official reason for the unseasoned keeper’s surprise start. Jurado also had little to no chance of saving any one of Pumas’ close-range shots. Not even Corona could have done much better there.
I know it’s already a meme and constantly shoved into every Liga MX fan’s mind, but it’s worth looking back at possibly the craziest finale in Liga MX history when Cruz Azul lost the title to Club America in 2013. I won’t get too into it here, we all know what happened, but watch this video for highlights. Losing a final in penalties after conceding two goals in stoppage time with a man up is damn near impossible. Now, the impossible has happened twice.
La Maquina Celeste have the most silver medals in Mexico, with 11, six of which have come during the “curse” era. They have seen 13 of their contemporaries lift the league trophy since they last did in 1997.
“Curses” are nothing atypical in athletics. Theories and lore of why some teams are unlucky are prevalent in every major sport.
But here’s the difference, most of those can be explained pretty simply. The teams just weren’t good. It’s almost always bad ownership/coaching, issues with injuries and fitness or short-sighted drafting and decision-making from executives.
Oh, and most of those curses ENDED. Chicago won the World Series in 2016. So did the LeBron-led Cavaliers.
One curse that is similar to Cruz Azul’s is the Philadelphia city curse (both known for choking titles away), but that too, ended when the Eagles beat the Patriots in a Super Bowl to remember in 2018.
Cruz Azul has always been successful in Mexico. There were no real dark ages for them, no times where they were floundering at the bottom of league tables. La Maquina have made the playoffs 29 times in the 43 tournaments since last winning a championship. If not for the pandemic, that number would be 30/44. That’s nearly a 70% playoff success rate. ANY team in any major sport would kill for that.
Here’s something those other sports curses definitely don’t have: vernacular that bleeds into the culture of their society. Cruzazulear is now a verb in Mexico; regularly used to mean losing or failing against all odds. It’s used even by folks who don’t watch soccer, and the Royal Spanish Academy recognizes its definition, although it’s still not officially in the Spanish-language dictionary.
I just can’t think of any of other team that is consistently good at their sport, gets close time after time, and miraculously misses the mark with each attempt.
So, now what?
I really don’t know. And I can bet you Cruz Azul’s front office and ownership are thinking the same thing. Will Siboldi be sacked? Possibly, but what would that accomplish? The Uruguayan has done well in Mexico City. He brought in the right pieces (Cabecita, Romo, Rivero, Gimenez) to the first team and kept team morale and level high after many football-less months in 2020.
So what else can you do? As a sports team, they’ve done all they can to eliminate this 23-year-old omen. But what do you do when all you can is not enough?
Do you believe in curses?
You can follow Antonio on Twitter @antonio1998__