Injuries roil Apertura finalists Cruz Azul and América

Javier Rodriguez (L) of Cruz Azul and Tijuana's goalkeeper Gibran Lajud fall during their Mexican Clausura football tournament match at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City on January 26, 2019. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Javier Rodriguez (L) of Cruz Azul and Tijuana's goalkeeper Gibran Lajud fall during their Mexican Clausura football tournament match at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City on January 26, 2019. (Photo by Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images) /

The season is only four weeks old and the Cementeros and Aguilas now have roster holes as a result of injuries.

Cruz Azul has recovered from its sluggish start to fashion a two-game winning streak, the most recent being a costly 1-0 victory over Tijuana on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Cementeros, their locker room appears more like a hospital.

Later that same day, América saw its 23-game unbeaten streak end at the hands of Monterrey and afterward the club announced that two starters – Oribe Peralta and Mateus Urube – both require minor ankle surgery that will sideline them three to four weeks.

With only two days remaining in the transfer window, it will be interesting to see if either team scrambles to acquire replacements.

From Blue Cross to Red Cross

Cruz Azul seemed poised to challenge for the top seed again this season after adding two offensive players to the league’s best defense. Jonathan Rodríguez and Orbelín Peralta had not even settled in when midfield linchpin Iván Marcone dropped a bombshell.

When the raise the 28-year-old Argentine asked for was denied his agent demanded a trade to Boca Juniors. Marcone was among the league’s best newcomers last season and his play in front of the back four probably merited a raise. But even had he been offered one, he was determined to return to his home country in hopes of a call-up to the national team.

Cruz Azul had already discarded Angel Mena who had been mostly unproductive, but now he is starting and scoring goals for León. Javier Salas seemed to be the natural choice to replace Marcone, but he has been unconvincing in his three starts.

So the Cementeros went to Portugal and acquired 22-year-old Stephen Eustaquio, a promising midfielder that coach Pedro Caixinha knew from his time coaching at Leiria. Eustaquio saw his first playing time last week in a Copa MX match and entered Saturday’s Tijuana game as a sub in minute 57. Twenty-three minutes later, he was carted off with a torn knee ligament. He’ll be lost for at least six months.

Earlier, left back Adrián Aldrete went down and required medical attention. Post-game reports indicated he suffered a knee ligament sprain and could be out for at least 6 weeks. Fortunately, Cruz Azul had acquired Peru international Yoshima Yotun who is capable of playing both left back and midfield. However, he is already on injury row with a thigh muscle injury. The hope is he can return in the coming days, but likely won’t be fit for 90 minutes for several weeks.

That same day, in a match with the Cementeros’ Under-20 squad, top central defense sub Jordan Silva suffered a torn knee ligament and fractured tibia. He’ll be lost for 6-8 months.

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Perhaps, Caixinha will try to address his defensive injuries by ramping up the offense, especially since the remaining defenders are a formidable line, but fatigue would be a big issue if José Madueña, Pablo Aguilar, Igor Lichnovsky and Julio César Domínguez are forced to play big minutes.

Javier Salas and Rafa Baca will be called upon to hold down the defensive midfield position, but Jonathan Rodríguez and Orbelín Pineda better start earning their big paychecks because 1-0 victories will be harder to come by.

Aguilas wings clipped

Defending champion América did not make any notable acquisitions during the transfer market (though not for lack of trying, if rumors are to be believed).

They did, however, sell 18-year-old wunderkind Diego Lainez to Spain’s Real Betis and sent productive winger Cecilio Domínguez to Argentina’s Independiente. The thinking was that their roster was full of offensive firepower and the hoped-for return of striker Jeremy Menez from knee surgery would provide a boost during the second half of the season.

Unfortunately, striker Roger Martínez and midfielder Mateus Uribe were carrying knocks that kept them from the starting lineup through Matchday 3. Martínez returned for Saturday’s Monterrey contest, but Uribe was still not available. Also left off the roster this past weekend was skipper Oribe Peralta.

On Monday, América announced that both Uribe and Peralta would need minor ankle surgery that would keep them in hospital for at least three weeks. That news was preceded by a report that Menez had suffered a setback in his rehab and he would be out an additional 6 weeks.

This comes on top of the emergency appendectomy on Jan. 10 for forward Andrés Ibarguen, an occasional starter who supplied energy and offense on the flank.

Suddenly, América’s attacking options appeared thinner than anticipated. During the transfer window, the Aguilas had been linked to big-name strikers including Mauro Boselli and Nicolás Castillo but nothing transpired. More recently, América has been kicking the tires of a few players in MLS, most notably “Kaku” Romero, a striker with the New York Red Bulls and Record reported that talks are advancing.

América certainly has the deep pockets necessary to bring in late reinforcements and management is eager to defend their Liga MX crown and claim the double by winning the Copa.

The clock is ticking for both Cruz Azul and América.