At the beginning of the season, I had a sneaking suspicion. There was a faint whiff of something foul. I couldn't say for sure that the funk was there, but it was a definite possibility. Now through the tenth match of the season, I could say with confidence ... this Cruz Azul team is deeply flawed and just a bit awful.
Cruz Azul were coming off a dreadful season last year that saw them miss out on the playoffs, crash out of the Copa Libertadores early and fire their manager. This summer they spent large on bringing in three big name players. They signed longtime El Tri midfielder, Pablo Barrera. The Colombian defenseman, Luis Perea was brought in from Atletico Madrid. Finally the Argentine striker, Mariano Pavone, was acquired to replace the outgoing Emanuel Villa. These signings were by no means a slam dunk, but they did provide a boost of hope into the organization which was slumping at the time. Barrera was in poor form having come back from Europe largely unsuccessful. Pavone and Perea were signings that were accomplished because these players were clearly past their prime. Yet, the talent was there. This injection of new players should have at least propelled the team back in the playoffs.
Being one of the top eight clubs and thus advancing to the playoffs is now highly in doubt. The new signings have been a combination of either tragically disappointing or utterly useless. Pablo Barrera was finally coming in to great form and creating an offensive spark that was desperately needed. That was until he tore his ACL and departed for the season. Luis Perea, while getting the recognition of a great defender, isn't one. He knows the game well, but can no longer effectively play it. Perea is much too slow and gets burnt by opposing goal scorers too often. His loose defending resulted in the lone goal being scored in the match with Club America. In Friday's match against the Jaguares of Chiapas, he scored the only goal of the game. Unfortunately, it was into the wrong net. With stronger central defenders (or at least ones with more promise) on the bench in Jair Pereira and Nestor Aruajo, it's clear that his playing time is a result of salary and not ability. The biggest disappointment of the three, however, has been Mariano Pavone. Pavone has the build of the classic striker. He's a big guy who parks himself in a position to take the deadly blow when the opportunity arises. The only problem is that he is incapable of connecting on that blow. He turns the ball over regularly with poor touches, misplayed balls, and weak shooting. With Alejandro Vela, Javier Aquino, and Maranhao providing service, he has received plenty of chances to make a difference. He has squandered almost all of these. When I first saw Pavone put on the Cruz Azul uniform I thought he looked more like a guy working at the deli counter of the grocery store than a footballer. Now, I doubt whether he could slice meat without losing a finger.
Cruz Azul's performance against Chiapas on Friday epitomized the problems this team possesses. The defense was strong, and the always dependable Jesus Corona was a wall. Chiapas nearly caught Cruz Azul napping a few times, but Corona stepped up and made some great saves. He was unable to stop the shot from his defender, Luis Perea, though. Once again, for as much possession as Cruz Azul had they couldn't do anything with it. Through ten matches they have only conceded seven goals, but they have also only scored the same number.
Javier Aquino probably had his best match since returning from the Olympics. Unlike his play against America, he was all over the pitch. Aquino took on defenders, made dangerous diagonal runs through the defense, and went from box to box impacting the play on and off the ball. But Aquino doesn't have a powerful shot. This wouldn't be a problem if Cruz Azul had competent forwards. They don't. Chuleta Orozco and Mariano Pavone aren't getting it done. They have been consistently poor. Few shots are generated and those that are have little chance of beating a top flight goalkeeper. With Omar Bravo being the only other option on the bench, they have no competition to push them to improve. In the America match, Chaco Giminez was subbed on for Orozco late. This had a positive impact on the offensive play. Guillermo Vasquez tried the same thing at halftime on Friday, but Chaco played poorly and did little to improve the goal scoring chances of Cruz Azul. Through their previous nine matches, Chiapas had conceded sixteen goals proving themselves to be porous in defense. Cruz Azul couldn't net one and didn't look like they could given another ninety minutes. There's just no firepower on this team.
There's now a big enough sample size to make some clear judgments about this Cruz Azul squad. They will continue to give opposing teams a hard time trying to find the back of the net. Yet, no matter the quality of their opponent most games will be close because Cruz Azul just can't score.