Cruz Azul are all but eliminated from playoff contention. They currently sit 16th overall with 17 points - 3 behind León and Santos for 9th and 10th respectively and the final play in spot - with just one game to go in the regular season and 5 teams standing between them and a playoff berth. It’s been an up and down season for La Máquina to say the least, and despite being close to punching a ticket to the playoffs, losing 9 games out of a possible 16 can never help your cause.
But if there’s one positive in Cruz Azul’s Apertura 2023, it’s their in-season acquisition, Ángel Sepúlveda. The striker was purchased hours before the trade deadline in what was a cash-in on Grupo Caliente’s part after his stellar Leagues Cup performance and regular season start with Querétaro, especially with the recent rumors of the club changing ownership next month once the season comes to an end.
Sepúlveda’s highest tally for a full season prior to this had been 6 goals (Clausura 2021 with Querétaro) followed by 5 just a year later (Clausura 2022 also with Querétaro). But this season has been very different. In just the first 4 matches with Querétaro, the striker had already put up 3 important goals that had Gallos thriving upon returning from the Leagues Cup (plus another Leagues Cup goal vs. Philadelphia). And since his arrival at La Máquina, in 9 total matches (6 as a starter), he’s scored 6 times already, bringing his season total to 9 goals, tied for 2nd place in the golden boot race only behind Harold Preciado (11).
And it isn’t just the goal total that’s impressed, but it’s also the intangibles he brings to the table. He’s effective at hauling in long balls and playing as the post, spreading the ball around to his teammates, always well positioned during an attack and finds a way to the ball inside the box even if his attempt isn’t always converted. Most importantly, he’s happy to be a team player and that’s what’s allowed him to thrive. He shares the ball and that allows for it to find a way back to him in a prime position to score.
And the main factor this season that he hasn’t had in others - consistency. When presented with a chance to score, he hasn’t missed. Not only hasn’t he missed, but he’s scored some high quality goals at vital times that have either meant a lead or a win and has figured out how to do it game in and game out since July.
What’s the worst part about Sepúlveda’s top-form season? He won’t get to truly put it to the test in the playoffs. Nothing like capping off a career season with a deep playoff run to confirm it when it matters most. We all know how much things change when it’s crunch time, and he’s gotta be lamenting the fact he won’t get to feel that pressure playing at his highest level.
With all of that being said, the 32-year-old striker has made his voice heard loud and clear. And with the Mexican NT so short on quality strikers, he hopes to keep it that way going forward. Just saying.