Cruz Azul rescued three points in injury time to start their Concacaf Champions League run with a 2-1 win over Jamaica’s Portmore United. In the first leg played in Kingston, Jamaica, Cruz Azul played a terrible game and were down 1-0 before getting two late goals in injury time. Cruz Azul coach Roberto Dante Siboldi almost paid for his arrogance, and Portmore United should have gotten the win but did a bad job of managing the final minutes as well as being unlucky. With the win Cruz Azul will now travel to back to Mexico City to face Tigres on Saturday and the return leg of their series with Portmore next week.
The game started with Cruz Azul as expected starting with an alternate squad, including giving goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado his first official game with Cruz Azul. The first minutes had Cruz Azul dominating possession while Portmore sat back. It took until the seventh minute when Orbelin Pineda got a long range shot to force goalkeeper Kemar Foster to make a great save for Cruz Azul’s first goal opportunity. Portmore United almost surprised when Chavany Willis made a long range shot that forced Jurado to make a save. Cruz Azul wasted an incredible chance when Lucas Passerini got a ball in the area and his shot got blocked by Foster. Passerini then got to the rebound and without a keeper, had his shot hit the post and get cleared by a Portmore defender. Portmore then had another chance when Ricardo Morris’ long range shot took a weird bounce that troubled Jurado, who had to gift them a corner kick. Portmore started going up more to attack and giving Cruz Azul trouble.
Cruz Azul couldn’t get back into the game as both Passerini and Jonathan Borja were struggling up front. Cruz Azul wasted another great chance when Alex Castro got a ball in the area, but took to long to shoot and Foster blocked the ball on his feet. Cruz Azul had another chance when a cross made it into the area but Borja’s shot went well wide. Later a cross by Pineda was sent wide by Pablo Ceppelini. The halftime whistle blew and Portmore had surprised a poor Cruz Azul.
The second half started with Cruz Azul once again going on the offense trying to get on the scoreboard. Borja continued the pattern of wasting chances when he got a good ball in the area, but he did a terrible job of volleying it with his left foot and his shot didn’t even force Foster to make a save. Portmore came close to opening the score when they got a great counter attack and Shai Smith got a left footed shot that went close but wide from Jurado. Coach Siboldi seemed to get tired of the lack of attack and subbed out the slumping Borja for Jonathan Rodriguez. He then subbed out Orbelin Pineda for Roberto Alvarado. Then to the surprise of everyone, Portmore United opened the scoring when a Rondee Smith shot got deflected by Rafael Baca and the ball went over and past Jurado for the 1-0.
Cruz Azul tried to answer by subbing out Pablo Ceppelini for Santiago Gimenez. Cruz Azul tried battling for a chance but they weren’t creating much danger except for a chance that fell to Rodriguez, whose shot went straight to the keeper. Portmore came close to scoring the second goal when they had a couple of chances in the area, but both times shot wide or straight to a Cruz Azul defender. Cruz Azul had a chance when a cross fell into the area Pesserini header was terrible, and Foster got to the ball but didn’t clear it properly. The ball bounced in the area until Rodriguez crashed into foster and got called for a foul. Pablo Aguilar fell to the ground and looked to be injured as he had to be stretchered out, leaving Cruz Azul with ten players for the rest of the game.
Portmore started countering at at times it looked like they were closer to a second goal than Cruz Azul was to getting a tie. Then in the 95th minute, the ball fell into the area and Pesserini got a shot off that was deflected by a Portmore defender past Foster for the 1-1. It was an unlucky play and terribly undeserved for Pesserini as the shot would have gone wide had the defender not deflected it. Then in the last minute of the game, the ball once again fell in the area and after a shot by Gimenez, the ball got deflected into the path of Jonathan Rodriguez, who got a solid shot past Foster 2-1. In the most unjust way possible for Portmore, Cruz Azul got a win to start their Concacaf Champions League.
Cruz Azul should count their blessings in not finishing with one of the worst results ever in the CCL. Once again a Mexican club paid for their hubris as Coach Siboldi decided it was a good game to start with a totally alternate squad that hadn’t been playing together, and it was shown as they looked totally out of sync. The trio of Alex Castro, Lucas Passerini, and Jonathan Borja did a terrible job as they struggled with their lack of cohesion between them as well as the lousy conditions of the field. Had Portmore not gifted Cruz Azul the tying goal, things would have gotten tough although they always had the advantage of the return second leg in Estadio Azteca. Cruz Azul getting the win tonight means the ticket to the quarterfinals is almost settled, and now Siboldi making the decision to start again with the alternate squad is totally justified. Still there were some worrying signs especially the struggles from Borja and Pesserini, who are expected to have a bigger impact.