Great teams that never win a championship tend to not be remembered by many. That is the way sports generally work; if you’re not a champion, nobody remembers you or even cares to. Such is the case with La Maquina Cementera. Cruz Azul owned one of the greatest runs made by any club in Liga MX history from the end of the 2000s to the mid-2010s. Why does nobody bring up this team as much as they should? Simple; they never won a title that truly mattered (league). In fact, Cruz Azul’s last league title came 22 and a half years ago (December 1997).
After a rough first half of the 2000s, Cruz Azul returned to relevancy and their historical “elite” status. Rubén Omar Romano became head coach for the start of the Clausura 2005 season, during which La Maquina ended up with the 2nd overall seed in the table and reached the Semifinals; a great first season under their new coach. From that season up until the end of the Apertura 2008 (8 total seasons), Cruz Azul won at least 7 games each season, made the playoffs in all of them, and reached the Final in both Clausura and Apertura 2008, which they would ultimately lose to Santos and Toluca, respectively. They would go on to have a series of coaching changes during that time, with Romano only lasting a year, followed by Isaac Mizrahi for the next year and half. Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian led the team to its first final since 1999 in the Clausura 2008, and Benjamin Galindo took over for the Apertura 2008. Cruz Azul never lost focus and remained a contender every season.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in four and a half years with a horrible 2-win season and placing last in the league table, “El Maestro” Galindo exited the club following the Clausura 2009. “Ojitos” Meza arrived for the start of the Apertura 2009, where Cruz Azul would continue its amazing run of results. Along with Meza, La Maquina got their backbone on the pitch as well for that season, with the signing of striker “Tito” Villa and keeper José de Jesús Corona. After placing 2nd overall that season, they went on to play Rayados in that epic Final where they led by two goals in the first leg in Monterrey and eventually gave the lead up to Suazo and company. After barely missing the playoffs by goal difference to Pachuca in the Bicentenario 2010, Cruz Azul would go on to win 12, 7, and 8 games respectively in the following three seasons, but could not reach the Final in any of them, ending all in very disappointing runs given their talent and performance during the regular season.
After once again, barely missing the Clausura 2012 playoffs (9th place) due to injuries to key players like Gerardo Torrado, “Chaco” Gimenez, and “Tito” Villa, and being eliminated from the Copa Libertadores in the Round of 16 during that same semester, Enrique Meza’s tenure as head coach came to a sad end. He had a very successful 3-year run with the club but was simply unable to translate it into titles.
Guillermo Vázquez was the next appointed head coach for the start of the Apertura 2012. Players like Mariano Pavone and Pablo Barrera were signed in an attempt to strengthen the team. Cruz Azul would place 6th in the league table that season but were ousted by Leon in the Quarter-Finals. They would have a similar Clausura 2013, placing 5th, except their playoff run was very different. They would reach yet another Final, this time measuring up against America. Leading the aggregate score by 2 goals with only three minutes left to play in regulation, they couldn’t have come any closer to a title than that. Two last-minute goals by Mosquera and Moi Muñoz saw the title slip away from Cruz Azul in the penalty shootout, thus extending their title-less streak.
However, they would obtain one title during that semester. Cruz Azul defeated Atlante to claim the Copa MX for the Clausura 2013, their first official title since 1997. Unfortunately for them, not a title that anyone cares about or even truly “counts.” The League Title is the only one that is seen as worthy in Mexico. The Apertura 2013 came around and once again Memo Vázquez put his team in contention , placing 4th in the league table, only to see a repeated drop in the first round after a disappointing series vs. Toluca. That would be the end of Vázquez in charge of the team.
Luis Fernando Tena took control of the team for the start of the Clausura 2014, where they finished 1st place overall in the league table. During the first round of the playoffs, they found themselves in an aggregate tie vs. 8th seed Leon, but thanks to Leon’s higher road scoring, La Fiera won the tiebreaker. Leon were on their way to their second consecutive title under Gustavo Matosas, while Cruz Azul were just left with yet another disappointment. But they would win a title during that semester, as they did in 2013. This time, it was the CONCACAF Champions League, where they defeated Toluca to claim this tournament for the first time since they last did it in 1997.
Thanks to the CONCACAF CL title, they would go on to participate in the 2014 Club World Cup in Morocco. They would defeat Australian club Western Sydney Wanderers to move on to the Semifinal matchup where they would be crushed by Real Madrid by 4-0. They would end up placing 4th in the tournament. And that would officially mark the end of Cruz Azul’s consistent and quality run of results. They would miss the playoffs from the Apertura 2014 to the Clausura 2017 (6 seasons), and finally begin to regain momentum with the arrival of head coach Pedro Caixinha until the Clausura 2018. But it was a major struggle to get back for them, no doubt.
When you sit back and really reflect on it, it is something that is widely overlooked and underrated in so many ways. Cruz Azul endured one of the most spectacular runs over a 10-year span, and they honestly had everything they needed to win, with top quality players in all areas of the pitch, but just couldn’t bring home the trophy. Some may blame it on bad luck, but I also believe they encountered other all-time great teams, such as Rayados and America, during that run. Just think about how they utterly dominated the league during that span; Cruz Azul reached the playoffs in 16 out of 19 seasons; they were 1st overall in the league table 3 times; they placed in the top four of the table 11 times; they reached four league finals, two of which were decided in a penalty shootout. But, for some reason, the team just seemed to falter and forget what they did in the regular season when the playoffs came around. And that, coupled with bad luck, such as the 2013 Final vs. America, created one of the most successful runs in history with no title to go along with.
In other words, by 2015, we could’ve, and probably should’ve been witnesses to a 10-year dynasty by Cruz Azul coming to an end. Instead, we’re left with an all-time great team who is not remembered, talked about, or even recognized much at all by anyone. The 2005-2014 Cruz Azul era goes down as one of the most underrated teams in history, only because they never capitalized it with a title.