Cruz Azul seems certain to advance in the Liga MX playoffs but defending champ Santos must be wary of allowing a goal in the return match against Monterrey.
Top-seeded Cruz Azul went to Querétaro and soundly defeated the Gallos Blancos 2-0, putting the Cementeros in the driver’s seat in the #1 vs #8 match-up. The two teams take the field on the new Estadio Azteca turf Saturday evening with a berth in the Liga MX semifinals at stake.
Midfielder Roberto Alvarado sparked Cruz Azul to the win, wreaking havoc everywhere on the pitch and on both sides of the ball. He banged a shot off the post as the hour mark approached and his mates corralled the rebound with Edgar Méndez finally poking it into the net for a 2-0 lead. Had Alvarado’s shot gone in, it would have been the first time all season that Gallos Blancos goalie Tiago Volpi had allowed a goal on a shot from outside the box.
Cruz Azul keeper Jesús Corona was only called on to make 2 saves but his first – blocking a shot out near the top of the box on a Camilo Sanvezzo breakaway – preserved the Cementeros’ 1-0 lead as halftime approached.
Defender Pablo Aguilar opened the scoring for Cruz Azul heading home from the far post as the Cementeros kept a corner kick in play before Adrián Aldrete volleyed a low centering pass that Aguilar powered home. It was the Paraguayan’s 6th goal in Liguillas, but his first since Apertura 2015 when he scored in a quarterfinal for América against León. The goal made history in that it was the first goal allowed by video replay in Liga MX playoff history.
Coach Pedro Caixinha should be satisfied with the result, his team was aggressive and efficient, especially on defense. For now, the Portuguese manager’s biggest gripe is that Cruz Azul will not be allowed to practice on the new Estadio Azteca sod on Friday. He had been pushing for the opportunity to get his team familiar to the new grass after the disastrous season-long experience with the hybrid grass that looked so awful during the entire Aperture 2018
The pitch at the Coloso de Santa Úrsula will surely be in the spotlight; it even forced a public apology from Televisa president Emilio Azcárraga Jean. The surface was so bad that the NFL moved the Monday Night Football game from Estadio Azteca and América was forced to move a home game to Toluca so the grounds-keeping could get under way. The new grass will host Liga MX playoff games Saturday and Sunday.
Santos wounded, but confident at home
It took a wonder goal, but Monterrey finally managed to get one past their former goalie, Jonathan Orozco. Rayados striker Rogelio Funes Funes Mori executed a cracking bicycle kick in minute 60 to earn the first-leg triumph for the home team.
Orozco, who played 11 ½ seasons with Monterrey before switching to Santos in January 2017, made 4 big saves but there was little he could do to stop the goal. It was only the third time Orozco had faced his former team and his first loss after a 2-2 tie in Clausura 2017, a 3-2 win in Clausura 2018 and a 1-0 triumph on Oct. 26.
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Santos looked sharp at times but suffered from sloppy finishing. Winger Bryan Lozano was more effective than he has been in recent weeks, but linemate Jonathan Rodríguez limped off injured 3 minutes after his team fell behind. He seemed to be complaining about a lower back injury. If he is less than 100 percent, it will be a significant blow to the Guerreros.
For the Rayados, the play of midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro was a hopeful sign. After struggling with injuries virtually all season, the expensive summer signing showed spring in his step and was a key contributor to the goal, making the pass wide to Carlos Rodríguez who supplied the cross that Funes Mori dealt with so splendidly.
Monterrey keeper Marcelo Barovero was rarely tested and his clean sheet could be significant heading into the second match of this series.
The return leg takes place Saturday night in Torreón where Santos went undefeated at Estadio Corona (6-3-0), outscoring opponents 17 to 6. Since away goals come into play in the Liga MX quarterfinals and semifinals, a goal by Monterrey would force Santos to win 3-1 to advance. The Guerreros defense will likely face waves of counterattacks on Saturday.
Chivas preparing for United Arab Emirates trip
As the 2018 Concacaf Champions League winner, the Chivas will compete in the FIFA Club World Cup that takes place in the UAE from Dec. 12-22. Guadalajara debuts on Dec. 15 against the Kashima Antlers, winners of the Asian Champions League.
If the Chivas win the quarterfinal match, they will face Real Madrid in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 19.
But before the team even left Guadalajara, the “Rebaño Sagrado” was making waves, specifically over the roster decisions made by manager Pepe Cardozo. Fans are upset that Cardozo did not include youngster José Juan Macías in the final 23 after he won the Golden Boot at the U-20 Concacaf Championships this month. The 19-year-old scored 10 goals as El Tri made it to the finals.
Also left off the list were striker Ángel Sepúlveda and defender Mario de Luna. Sepúlveda, 27, was acquired over the summer from Morelia but failed to win a spot in the starting 11. De Luna, 30, is a Chivas product who was loaned out to Chivas USA in 2013 and re-signed from Necaxa over the summer. The return to health of Jesús Sánchez likely cost De Luna his spot.