By Sam Vanolinda
Cruz Azul (Photo credit: Kelvin Kuo - USA TODAY Sports)
After defeating Club Necaxa 4-1 on Saturday night due to Polish magic from Karol Świderski and Kamil Jóźwiak, Charlotte FC will face Liga MX side Club de Fútbol Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup Round of 32 this Thursday.
Cruz Azul defeated Atlanta United on penalties to finish second in Group J, and will be facing Charlotte who finished first in Group K after five points from two games.
Despite this upcoming matchup being a home game for the Crown, due to Bank of America Stadium having prior commitments this coming Thursday, (Panthers Fan Fest) the game will be played in Dallas; Charlotte will not have the home atmosphere they did against Necaxa.
Playing in this tournament against Mexican sides allows our fans to learn more about the teams that our neighbors in the South have to offer, so like we did with Necaxa, we explored the history and current standing of “The Sky-Blues,” Cruz Azul.
Cruz Azul was originally founded in Jasso, Hidalgo. Carlos Garces López, a licensed dentist, was providing dental care for a cement company named Cemento Cruz Azul. Cementro Cruz Azul had a company baseball team, but Garces López, who also was a footballer and athlete, being included in Club América’s original team, lobbied to change that baseball team into a soccer team. Garces López would travel back and forth between Jasso and Mexico City for training sessions with his club and wanted to bring the sport back with him.
On March 22, 1927, the team voted to change the sport from baseball to soccer despite some resistance from Americans within the ranks. Cruz Azul was founded, and for 30 years they would dominate as an amateur team in Mexico.
It was the 1964-65 season when Cruz Azul was promoted to the Primera Divison in Mexico, since then, they have won an impressive amount of silverware, and become a member of the big four in Mexican soccer, along with Club América, Pumas UNAM, and Chivas.
Cruz Azul is a one-time Concacaf Champions League winner, five-time Concacaf Champions Cup winner, three-time Mexican Campeón de Campeones, seven-time Mexican Champions, one-time Clausura Champions, one-time Apertura Champion, two-time Mexican Cup winners, two time Mexican Super Cup Winners, one time Mexican Clausura Cup Winners, One time Apertura Cup Winners, and the winner of the inaugural Leagues Cup tournament in 2019. Cruz Azul is also the only team to win the North American Treble, winning the Concacaf Champions Cup, Liga MX, and Copa MX in 1997.
In 1971, Cruz Azul moved to Mexico City, where they would begin playing in Estadio Azteca, Mexico’s largest venue which also hosts the national team, over 7200 feet above sea level. Cruz Azul would play at Azteca until 1996 when they would switch to Estadio Ciudad de los Deportes, a 33,000-capacity stadium slightly North. Cruz Azul played there for 22 years before they moved back to Estadio Azteca after the 17-18 Liga MX season. They now share Azteca, and its 83,264 seats, with Club América and are potentially looking to build their own stadium in the future.
Estadio Azteca (Photo courtesy of Estadio Azteca)
Cruz Azul, with the color blue within their name, is known for their royal blue kits and passionate fanbase, but despite all their success, they currently sit dead last in Liga MX.
Through three Liga MX games, Cruz Azul has not started how manager Ricardo Ferretti would have envisioned. They are sitting in 18th, with just one goal scored and six conceded. Despite this, a strong showing in the Leagues Cup could propel the team in the right direction, and strong showings against Inter Miami and Atlanta United will have the team confident they can get a result against Charlotte.
The Sky-Blues had an impressive performance against a buzzing Inter Miami team in their first game of the tournament. After Robert Taylor scored an incredible goal right before halftime, Cruz Azul dominated in the second half and managed to equalize through Uriel Antuna, before some little guy from Argentina you probably haven’t heard of and Spanish Legend Sergio Busquets began to carve through the team. Messi and Busquets’ play was summarized with a vintage unsavable Messi free kick in extra time to win the game, but Cruz Azul still put out a respectable performance.
Against Atlanta, Cruz Azul was out-possessed 39%-61% and outshot 6-15 after taking an early lead through a Moises Vieira goal. The talented Thiago Almada was able to tie the game in the 75th minute, but Cruz Azul remained confident and won 5-4 on penalties.
Notes for the upcoming game
Cruz Azul should come out in a similar formation to the one they used in their previous match versus Atlanta United, a 4-2-3-1.
Cruz Azul's lineup vs Atlanta United (Graphic found at Google)
While Charlotte was able to build confidence against a vastly inferior side Necaxa in their last match, dominating possession against a counter-attacking, set-piece drawing team, Cruz Azul should provide a different challenge.
Cruz Azul like to possess the ball, and has the quality of players to create chances in open play. Against Charlotte FC, they will bring mid-block pressure, focusing on controlling the midfield and recycling the ball.
The Sky-Blues have won the Leagues Cup before, in 2019, so despite a lot of the players and the manager not being the same, they have the pedigree to win this tournament. Despite this, Charlotte’s Polish stars Jóźwiak and Świderski, as well as a great performance from Brandt Bronico and rising star Patrick Agyemang, showed us how great they can be going forward.
If Charlotte can continue their momentum and be creative going forward, they have the talent to win this game and move on to the Round of 16.
Sources used for the history of Cruz Azul: