When It All Comes Together

Throughout the course of a season the level of play a team exhibits can vary greatly. Swings of momentum can take fans on a rollercoaster of emotions featuring wide-ranging hopes for the season.  The fluctuation in the form of individual players can be even more severe. Great players have solid games with the occasional masterful ninety. While the average players have their standard games, but a few times a season break out to have a ‘man of the match’ level performance. When a few players have this stellar performance, it’s usually enough to propel the team to victory. When nearly the entire team has this kind of performance, you have what occurred at Estadio Azul on Saturday.

Cruz Azul’s complete takedown of (then league-leading) Toluca this weekend was truly something to see. The 3-0 score line denotes a one-sided affair, but doesn’t paint the full picture of how much of a thrashing this truly was. Cruz Azul is a team that just doesn’t score much. Yet, they netted two in the first half (an almost unheard of feat for this team). These were not fluky goals either. These were built up and played through superior team formation and amazing individual efforts. Several players on the team probably had their best match of the season (and possibly of their careers).

If one player was to be singled out, it would have to be Javier Aquino. I’ve long said that Aquino was the best field player on this Cruz Azul squad. It was a bit ironic that Aquino proved that with an exclamation point in front of the manager that normally used him as a second half substitute, now Toluca manager Enrique Meza.  Aquino was impactful in all aspects of this match. He torched defenders down the flank and cut inside and around the visitors like they were rooted to the ground. He created chance after chance and could have easily scored a handful of goals (if he had a better shot). Off the ball, Aquino was a menace to Toluca. His darting runs were cause for worry, while he had approximately seventy-two takeaways. Aquino pickpocketed this Toluca squad so often he was making them look like amateurs.  They are not, by the way. Toluca has been a monster this season. They just made defending champion, Santos Laguna, look like fools six days earlier. The second goal of the match came when Aquino stripped the ball once again, played a give and go with Mariano Pavone and worked the ball past Talavera. Aquino said that this was Cruz Azul’s best game thus far; he was undoubtedly correct. It was also the strongest ninety minutes Aquino has ever played for La Maquina (which is really saying something).

Despite Javier Aquino sporting the Superman cape on Saturday, this was not a one-man performance.  Cruz Azul’s two starting strikers had impressive performances. Mariano Pavone, who still has some things to prove in Mexico, made some serious statements. He played with force but also with a deft touch. He set up Aquino for the second goal, while scoring the third on a beautiful flick from a tough angle. ‘Chaco’ Giminez, playing in the recessed striker role, was masterful at creating and pushing forward. The defense was magnificent through the entire match. Alejandro Castro and Nestor Araujo were forces in the center who successfully kept Jesus Corona lonely for long stretches. Araujo, who started due to Luis Perea being injured midweek, was a revelation. He looked to have his old form back.  Cruz Azul looked much stronger on the back line with Araujo in place of Perea. Gerardo Flores and Cesar Dominguez also had great games for La Maquina. The first goal of the match came from a corner kick. ‘Chaco’ sent it to the far post where Dominguez headed it back to the near post for Flores who knocked it in. It was an incredibly well executed corner kick, especially for a team that normally specializes in squandering them.  

The one player on the field for Azul who was having a poor match was Alejandro Vela, but then he notched an assist on Cruz Azul's third goal, scored by Pavone. This was a total team effort and victory. Cruz Azul made Toluca look silly.

With Cruz Azul likely needing only one point from their final two matches to qualify for the playoffs, they look ready to make a run. This team that controlled Estadio Azul and thwarted Toluca is capable of defeating any team in Mexico. The question remains whether they will be able to bottle up the magic they put together on Saturday and use it again in the coming month. For if Cruz Azul is to ever break through and end their trophy drought a touch of magic will likely be needed.