Cementeros under Construction: Structural deficiencies

"Chaco" Giménez starred on some of the best Cruz Azul teams, but was unable to fashion playoff success. (Photo by Francisco Estrada/Jam Media/LatinContent via Getty Images)
"Chaco" Giménez starred on some of the best Cruz Azul teams, but was unable to fashion playoff success. (Photo by Francisco Estrada/Jam Media/LatinContent via Getty Images) /

When the Apertura 2019 season comes to an end, it will have been 22 years since Cruz Azul’s last league title. After leading a revival at rivals América, Ricardo Peláez is the man in charge of ending the Cementeros’ ignominious streak.

After reaching – and losing – three Finals in four seasons (Clausura 2008, Apertura 2008 and Apertura 2009), the Cementeros went into a downward spiral. Mixed in were successful regular seasons followed by crushing playoff losses.

After finishing second in the table in the Apertura 2009 and losing in the Final, Cruz Azul missed the playoffs entirely the following season.  Then, the Apertura 2010 found coach Enrique Meza and the Cementeros comfortably on top of the table (a 7-point advantage over second-place Monterrey), and a clear favorite to end their title drought.

“Chaco” Giménez and Emanuel Villa led the offense and Javier Aquino made his first division debut. The Cementeros boasted the highest-scoring offense and the top defense. So what happens? A first-round playoff upset to the Pumas who scored the series-winning goal on a penalty kick in minute 84 of the second leg. Many consider this to be the best Cruz Azul team not to win a title.

Cementeros under Construction, part 5
A brawl erupted in the final minutes of the Morelia-Cruz Azul semifinal in the Clausura 2011 season. Two Cruz Azul players were ejected. (Photo by Gerardo Zavala/LatinContent via Getty Images) /

Meza retained his job but Cruz Azul finished the next two seasons in the middle of the table and was knocked out by Morelia both times. The first elimination (Clausura 2011) featured a full-on brawl late in the second-leg after which Morelia coach Tomás Boy taunted and insulted the Cementeros. The next season, Boy ridiculed Cruz Azul again after his No. 7 seed Monarcas defeated the No. 2 seed Cementeros in the quarterfinals.

When “La Maquina” missed the Clausura 2012 playoffs, Meza was sent packing and Guillermo Vázquez was hired. A year later, “Memo” had Cruz Azul in the final. The Cementeros were the highest-scoring team in the Clausura 2013 but only the No. 5 seed. Cruz Azul outscored Morelia 4-3 in the quarters and routed Santos 5-1 in the semis. Standing in the way of a trophy presentation was hated América.

Cementeros fold late

Cruz Azul was going for the double after winning the Copa MX, its first title of any kind since the Winter 1997 championship. What followed was the most painful Finals loss in Cruz Azul history.

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América outplayed Cruz Azul in the first leg, but goalie “Chuy” Corona was magnificent and an early headed goal by “Chaco” held up so the Cementeros went to Estadio Azteca with a 1-0 lead

When América’s Jesús Molina was shown a red card 13 minutes into the match, Cruz Azul fans could almost tasted the champagne. Teo Gutiérrez scored 7 minutes later and all Cruz Azul had to do was close the door against a 10-man team. They couldn’t do it.

The Cementeros started playing conservatively and they lost their nerve, it seemed. In minute 89, defender Aquivaldo Mosquera headed home to narrow the gap. In added time, América goalie Moisés Múñoz came forward on a corner kick and powered a header into the netting to tie the match. Even with a man advantage, Cruz Azul could not find the winner in overtime and a penalty-kick shoot-out was needed. It would not go Cruz Azul’s way and Cementeros fans were in tears yet again.

Cruz Azul slumped to a fourth-place finish in the Clausura 2013 and was routed by Toluca in the quarterfinals. This signaled the end of the “Memo” Vázquez era and Cruz Azul moved on to its 14th coach since “El Flaco” Tena guided the Cementeros to the 1997 crown.

So, who was hired? Luis Fernando Tena, of course.

Cruz Azul sinks to new lows

Cementeros under Construction, part 5
Cruz Azul celebrates after winning the 2014 Concacaf Champions League. (Photo by Miguel Tovar / LatinContent via Getty Images) /

Tena promptly led the Blue Machine to the 2014 Concacaf Champions League title, crushing Sporting Kansas City 5-2 in the quarterfinals, edging past Tijuana to reach the finals, then toppling Toluca thanks to an away goal by Argentine striker Mariano Pavone. It was Cruz Azul’s sixth Concacaf Champions League title and their first since 1997 (yep, there’s that year again).

That same season, Cruz Azul finished atop the Liga MX table, but their reward was a quarterfinal date with León. Although the Esmeraldas were the No. 8 seed, they were the defending champs and Rafa Márquez & Co. knocked out the league leaders thanks to a goal by Luis Montes.

A collapse followed and the Cementeros missed the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.

Tena was fired and Sergio Bueno lasted only four months. Then came shocking news for Cruz Azul fans. Tomás Boy was hired as coach. The same antagonist who brutally mocked the franchise and some of its players, then caused a brawl during the Clausura 2011 playoffs. Boy in no way fit the profile of Cruz Azul coaches through the years. Instead of bookish, even-tempered or professorial, “El Jefe” was brash, volatile and prone to outbursts.

Cementeros under Construction, part 5
Cruz Azul players react after the final whistle ending the Clausura 2014 quarterfinals that saw No. 8 León knock out the top-seed Cementeros in Estadio Azul. (Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images) /

There was little satisfaction when Boy promptly led the Cementeros even lower and relegation concerns became very real. “El Jefe” would only last a year before he was fired in October 2016, with interim coach Joaquín Morenoa finishing out the Apertura 2016 with Cruz Azul in 14th place. The search for a savior began anew. Pedro Caixinha was management’s first choice, but he was under contract with Scotland’s Rangers. So management settled for Spaniard Paco Jémez.

Jémez’s first season ended with mild improvement as Cruz Azul finished 11th, but the subsequent Apertura 2017 brought momentary joy back to Cementero Nation. A sixth-place finish meant the 3-year playoff drought was over. That joy was short-lived however, when América slipped past Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals after two scoreless matches. The Aguilas advanced as the higher seed, yet another crushing playoff exit for the Cementeros

Ownership had seen enough. Cruz Azul hired Ricardo Peláez to be the new team president and he successfully recruited Pedro Caixinha to take the reins. The Portuguese coach had enjoyed considerable success with Santos Laguna from 2012-2015, wining a league title, the Copa MX and the Champions Cup. The Caixinha Era began slowly – a 12th-place finish in his first season, but the Apertura 2018 saw the Cementeros claim the top seed and march to the Finals …

Part I – A solid foundation

Part II – Cruz Azul looks to rebuild

Part III – Engineering a framework

Part IV – Reaching for the Rafters

This feature is part of a series about the Big Four of the Liga MX: América, Guadalajara, Cruz Azul and the Pumas.