LIGA MX

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Can Cruz Azul build from Copa win?

AT LONG LAST
Cruzl Azul beat Atlante on penalty kicks to win Copa MX.
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Kyle McCarthy

Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter.

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The long and storied history of Cruz Azul boasts eight Mexican titles, five CONCACAF Champions Cups and now three Mexican cup triumphs. Even with that rather illustrious record in the books, La Máquina has experienced few weeks like the one that recently unfolded. This particularly successful stretch included three victories and the end of one painful and protracted title drought.

In the perfect preamble to the more rigorous tasks ahead, Guillermo Vázquez's side traveled to Querétaro in a bid to bolster its flagging Liguilla hopes last Saturday. Vázquez fielded a mix of starters and reserves against Gallos Blancos with one eye on the travails ahead in midweek, but second half tallies from Nicolás Bertolo and Javier Orozco claimed a necessary three points against the relegation certainties.

The victory ensured Cruz Azul entered Wednesday's Copa MX final in the proper frame of mind. Mentality mattered a great deal for this purportedly cursed side heading into a one-off tie for a championship. In each of its past seven attempts to secure a title, Cruz Azul somehow fell short despite its significant resources and its ample supply of talented players.

For much of the scoreless draw against Atlante, it looked like history might repeat itself. Cruz Azul stood out as the better side in Cancún, but it failed to translate that edge into the goal or two required to secure the result in regular time. Mexico goalkeeper Jesús Corona even had to pull out a timely stop or two to ensure the match reached the mandatory penalty kick stage at full time.

Corona pulled out another critical save on Kikin Fonseca's opening attempt to set the stage for an unexpected occurrence: a ruthless procession of penalty takers determined to end Cruz Azul's 15-year spell without a title. Four players stepped up, four players converted. Luis Venegas then struck his effort wide to conclude the fourth round with a miss and spark wild celebrations on the field and back in Mexico City.

The celebratory atmosphere continued through the 5-0 romp against Apertura winners Club Tijuana on Saturday. Mariano Pavone scored against the run of play in the first half to open the scoring and Tijuana saw a valid penalty shot turned down shortly thereafter, but the second half really allowed the jubilant supporters to herald the long-awaited success. Teófilo Gutiérrez grabbed the killer second moments after his arrival to secure the points. Gerardo Flores' header and Orozco's late double added a gloss befitting the occasion and Tijuana's undisciplined second stanza.

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It may appear a touch greedy in the wake of the recent achievements, but Cruz Azul will hope this trio of results provides a platform for further success. Three consecutive victories to close out the Clausura will guarantee a place in the Liguilla, though two would probably suffice. This squad – particularly with Pablo Barrera now back in the fold to torment defenses to reinforce the most prolific attack in the league – possesses the confidence and the talent to claim a berth in the playoffs and complete its double at the end of the campaign.

Falling short of that lofty standard hardly constitutes a failure at this juncture, though. No matter the final outcome, this group can reflect upon the past week and its meaning to the club with some satisfaction.

Tijuana, Tigres ponder dilemmas

Cruz Azul's resounding victory marked Tijuana's sixth consecutive league match without a victory and underscored the Xolos' current problems. Tijuana boss Antonio Mohamed discussed the potential ramifications of a Copa Libertadores challenge given the relatively modest squad at his disposal prior to the Clausura and noted that he planned to prioritize the Libertadores over his domestic obligations. Those efforts have yielded a berth in the round of 16 in South America's premier club competition, but the

Apertura champions may now face the ramifications of their failure to reinforce the squad as they attempt to close the two-point gap to the playoff places over the final three weeks of the season.

Tigres manager Ricardo Ferretti must also ponder his options carefully during the final few weeks as his table-topping side attempts to maintain its currently tenuous perch. Pumas finally inflicted a first Clausura defeat on the previously unbeaten side at Estadio Olímpico Universitario on Sunday, but this setback loomed for several weeks now. If Tigres does not sort out its modest concerns quickly, it could struggle with a difficult set of fixtures to close the season – home to Pachuca and Monterrey, away to Club América – and slide down the pecking order.

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Querétaro could climb up into the Liguilla places over the final three weeks, but a playoff berth would not salve the wounds created by its impending return to Ascenso MX. Morelia forward Héctor Mancilla essentially condemned Gallos Blancos to life in the second division with a stunning free kick on Friday night. One point dropped or one point gained by Puebla in the final three matches will confirm Querétaro's inevitable exit from the top flight.

RESULTS: Santos Laguna 2 – Toluca 1, Morelia 1 – Querétaro 0 (Friday); Cruz Azul 5 – Club Tijuana 0, Monterrey 2 – Pachuca 0, Club León 1 – Club América 1, San Luis 2 – Atlas 2 (Saturday); Puebla 1 – Jaguares 2, Pumas UNAM 2 – Tigres UANL 1, C.D. Guadalajara 1 – Atlante 2 (Sunday)

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