Cruz Azul scrapes into Copa MX final on penalty kicks

Cruz Azul celebrates after winning a penalty kick shootout to advance to the Copa MX final. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul celebrates after winning a penalty kick shootout to advance to the Copa MX final. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul squeaked into the Copa MX final, scrambling back from a 0-1 deficit to 10-man León before earning the victory on penalty kicks.

Monterrey will meet Cruz Azul in the final on Oct. 31. Monterrey defeated Pachuca con penalty kicks in their semifinal match.

León captain and leading scorer Mauro Boselli was shown a red card in minute 19 for elbowing Julio César Domínguez while both leaped to head the ball. It was not a bad call even if it was not a clear-cut red card, but ref José Alfredo Peñaloza was indecisive throughout and both teams had reasons to complain.

Cruz Azul dominated possession the remainder of the half but did not create any true scoring chances.

With the Estadio Azteca crowd getting anxious for the home team, León silenced the Cementero fans when fullback Fernando Navarro was sent through the middle of the Cruz Azul defense and slotted home for a stunning 1-0 lead.

This semifinal followed the pattern established Tuesday night when 10-man Monterrey scored early in the second half then parked the bus in front of their goal in a scrambling effort to hold on. The same thing happened Wednesday night and León’s defense stood tall, clearing out centering passes staying disciplined and shutting off passing lanes while playing a deep-lying 4-4-1.

Cruz Azul sent in 2 extra strikers shortly after falling behind, but did not change their tactics. They continued to send aimless crosses into the scrum in front of William Yarbrough and when the León defenders did not punt the ball away, the USA international keeper gobbled up errant passes and the several scuffed shots that reached him.

In minute 69, Cruz Azul’s Edgar Mendez wasted a clear chance to equalize. Standing unmarked at the back post on a corner kick, the Spaniard watched as the cross cleared the pack of players in the center of the box, he trapped it nicely but blasted a right-footer over the crossbar.

Two minutes later, fullback Adrián Aldrete took aim from 28 meters with time to pick out a spot but his shot was deflected by León’s Luis Montes. The ricochet arched over the leaping Yarbrough and settled into the back of the net making the score 1-1.

Cruz Azul continued to circle the net, switching from side to side, looking for openings. Unfortunately, the Cementeros forwards were playing soft, standing and waiting, a very static offense that was easy for León to cover. Cruz Azul rarely seemed to fight for position inside the box and failed to react when openings were on offer.

With the score still knotted at 1-1 when regulation ended, the teams went to penalty kicks and Cruz Azul goalie Guillermo Allison came up big on León’s third attempt, stopping Walter González’s weak effort. The Cementeros did not miss a single kick and advanced 5-4 with Martín Cauteruccio getting the clincher.

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Though the Cementeros advanced, they did not put on a convincing performance, especially since they played more than 70 minutes with a man advantage. In league play, Cruz Azul has lost 3 of 5 and has fallen out of first place with a match against cross-town rival América looming on Saturday night.

Both Cruz Azul and Monterrey will be going for their second trophy in the current Copa MX format. The Mexican League Cup dates back to 1907 and featured an amateur era from 1907 to 1943. The “professional era” began with the 1943-44 season but it came to an end in 1997.

The current Copa MX format was launched in 2012 and emulates the league season with two tournaments played each year. Necaxa won the Clausura 2018 Copa MX and Monterrey won the trophy the season before that (the Apertura 2017). Cruz Azul won the Clausura 2013 Copa MX trophy. Cruz Azul coach Pedro Caixinha won the Apertura 2014 Copa MX title with Santos in November 2014.