Here are three thoughts from Puebla’s 1-1 draw with Cruz Azul at a wet and windy Estadio Cuauhtémoc in round 2 of Guard1anes 2020 action:
1. La Máquina show mental fortitude to snatch late point
This is a match that Cruz Azul would have surely lost in previous years. They were without star striker Jonathan Rodríguez after the Uruguayan was sent off in the opener against Santos. A torrential downpour complicated any attempts at slick combinations on the floor. By the end of the first half, the middle sector of the pitch could have been confused with a swimming pool.
The adverse conditions certainly affected Robert Dante Siboldi’s charges, who could not display their typical attacking effervescence. Puebla packed men behind the ball and seemed set to hold out for a famous win after Pablo González had given them the lead early in the second half.
Considering the circumstances, Orbelín Pineda’s late equalizer is worth more than just a point. It extends La Máquina’s impressive run of 17 games without defeat in all competitions. More importantly, however, it underlines a growing mental fortitude that boosts their chances of lifting a first league title since 1997.
2. Caraglio can’t capitalize on Rodríguez suspension
After missing the entirety of the canceled Clausura 2020 with a fractured metatarsal in his right foot, the burly Argentinean was hoping to make up for lost time against Los Camoteros. Caraglio’s extended absence paved the way for Rodríguez to establish himself as Siboldi’s preferred center-forward, but with “Cabecita” missing on Friday, Caraglio had a golden opportunity to assert his claim to a regular starting place.
The number 9 had La Máquina’s two best chances of the opening period. First, a rasping long-range effort was saved brilliantly by Nicolás Vikonis. The former Atlas man was unlucky there, but he shot straight into Vikonis’ grateful arms when the ball fell his way on the edge of the six-yard box minutes later. For a player that does not contribute as much to the overall buildup as the mobile Rodríguez, Caraglio needs to put chances like those away.
Although he may lack the killer instinct required to carry the load for one of Mexico’s top teams, Caraglio is not useless. He is adept with his back to goal and always a threat in the air. Those qualities were of paramount importance on a muddy field against a Puebla side prepared to put eleven men behind the ball. As the hosts dropped deeper and deeper late on, Caraglio’s physical presence became more of a factor.
3. Vikonis one of the best in Liga MX
Given Puebla’s status as one of the league’s least glamorous clubs, it is unsurprising that Vikonis’ sterling showings since the turn of the year have flown under the radar. Yet, the veteran keeper has been a key element of La Franja’s defensive solidity under Juan Reynoso.
The 36-year old stood tall against a star studded visiting attack, with his five stops nearly paving the way for an unexpected home success. There may not be a better save all season than his miraculous left-footed block on substitute Misael Domínguez. It says much of Vikonis’ performance that it took a top corner special from Pineda to finally break the clean sheet.
With a squad short on match-winning talent, Vikonis is the ace in the hole for Reynoso. Los Camoteros had scored only seven times in their previous ten league outings before sticking four past Mazatlán, but that shyness in front of goal hardly matters when you have Vikonis. Without that quality between the sticks, Reynoso’s conservative tactics would fall flat.