It wasn't but a couple of week's ago when emotions got the better of the Cruz Azul players. They had just secured their first major trophy in two decades by winning the Concachampions (for a record 6th time, by the way). Neither Chaco Gimenez nor Gerardo Torrado could hold back the tears.
Saturday afternoon in the rain-swamped Azul, it was their fans who were crying.
Despite going up 2-0, the cementeros became another casualty of the top seed curse, as defending champions Leon overcame the deficit to tie la Maquina on aggregate and take the quarterfinal tie with a 2-1 away goal tie-breaker. The same tie-breaker that was modified as part of the re-brand, replacing the one that would have forced Leon to win outright as the lower seed.
Oh, Cruz Azul... never change.
The new tie-breaker scenarios certainly look like they made the regular season more irrelevant than they already are. If I was the Liga MX Capo, I would establish the following tie-breakers:
Quarters - if tied, higher seed advances Semis - away goals Final - none
Withe the top-seed out, it opens door, as it usually does, for the 2nd seed to take the title. Over the years, the 2 seeds have gladly accepted the benevolence of the lowest seeds knocking out the number 1s on their way to the title. This year's recipient is Toluca, who built its quarterfinal win on a foundation of fantastic saves by goalkeeper, Alfredo Talavera at the Caliente. And it didn't hurt when Xolos players couldn't find the target as well. The Red Devils then wore down the Aztec dogs in the sun and altitude of Toluca to win 3-1. They draw the defending champs next.
Last season's runner up, Club America, got a hat trick from World Cup aspirant Raul Jimenez as the overcame a 3-1 deficit at the Azteca to win 5-3 over Santos Laguna. When that many goals are scored, one has to wonder about the defenses, so it was baffling that Club America did not go for the throat in the second leg at Santos. Sure enough, it was America's defense that imploded late. Despite scoring 6 goals in the tie, the Mexico City club was done. 4 of those the defenders and the keeper will probably be on the World Cup squad. Yikes!
The final piece of the semi-final puzzle was to be decided between Pachuca and Pumas; a battle between teams that differed in how they built their teams. One blended promising young players with savvy foreign pick-ups and solid veterans. The other stocked their roster with a quintet of South Americans with nothing left in the tank. Pachuca catapulted into the liguilla with a 4 goals in the final 20 minutes of the last game of the season and kept the momentum going with the help of a hat trick by Ecuador's Enner Valencia, the tournament's scoring champion.
Remember that name next month.
It is the tuzos, not Pumas, who have leaned on their youngsters to get them into the semi-finals. 3 of them, Rodolfo Pizarro, Hirving Lozano, and Jurgen Damm have been brilliant at times. Damm, in particular, has great speed and vision while Lozano is poised to become a great goal scorer. In short, Pachuca is a fun team to watch.
The semi-finals will pit Pachuca vs Santos - both sides with 40something keepers and very fast attacks. Toluca will square off against Leon in the other tie. La Fiera loves to have the ball at their feet while Toluca is probably the most patient team in Liga MX.
Both semis should be great theater, and it all begins Wednesday night.