Breaking the Cycle

A new season starts for La Maquina with much of the familiar feel. A disappointing playoff performance leads to a shake-up of the roster and/or manager position. It fits like an old shoe - and smells like one, too.

Nothing irritates me much more than the Mexican coaching carousel. Managers are fired and replaced at such ridiculous rates. Clubs are rarely allowed to build consistency in direction. One bad result in a short tournament (an obviously small sample size) leads to the mandatory shake-up.   

Guillermo Vasquez met his fate this offseason after another first round exit for Cruz Azul. Surely, this result was disappointing for the fan base, but taking away Vasquez solves absolutely none of the issues with Cruz Azul. This team did not suffer from a lack of direction. They had a manager in Vasquez, who was willing to try different approaches. He tinkered with his starting lineup to find the strongest eleven or the one that matched the opponent best. He was smart with his substitutions and consistently fielded a team that looked prepared for the match at hand.

Vasquez also had a team that was aging in all the wrong places. He had a team that was saddled with foreign imports who continued to underperform. The roster was thinner than any other contender in the Liga MX. It was a mess. How much of this could be lain at his feet is unclear? What is clear is that he didn't fully create the roster mess in just his three short seasons with the club.

The simple fact is that Cruz Azul was beaten by a better team in the Liguilla. This was not a case of choking in the big moment or anything remotely resembling the usual Azul narrative. Toluca could score and Cruz Azul could not.

Cruz Azul's midfield continues to age and has trouble creating goal-scoring opportunities. The forwards in front of that midfield are wasteful with the little they do receive. Toluca recorded the most goals in the league this past season. Cruz Azul was never going to be able to keep up.

Looking forward it's not all doom and gloom for La Maquina. The hiring of Luis Fernando Tena can be viewed as a negative. He's a retread. He's just another Mexican manager that is being brought in and cycled through. And possibly even worse, he still has the Chepo stink on him, as he most recently served as Chepo de la Torre's assistant with El Tri.  However, Tena was the primary manager that led El Tri to Olympic Gold. And more poignantly, Cruz Azul has taken a ninety degree turn with their recent signings.  Whether Tena is at the wheel or not, the course has changed and that, by default, has to be positive.

The additions of three youthful MLS players is most definitely an about-face. Michael Farfan and Rafael Baca both have the potential to reinforce and add depth to a midfield desperately in need of just that. Are either of these players huge signings that will revolutionize the side? No, but they are exactly what Cruz Azul need - a youth injection in the correct position. Jose Villarreal is probably the most intriguing of the three additions. The young forward understandably couldn't find consistent playing time on the LA Galaxy front line. His move to Cruz Azul is a huge win for the club as Villarreal is seen as a true asset with plenty of potential. Cruz Azul would be wise to make this loan a permanent move, no matter the results for Villarreal in the short term.    

I suppose I would be remiss not to mention another one of Cruz Azul's signings that made a few headlines. Cruz Azul was able to pull Marco Fabian away from Chivas. Fabian appeared to be stuck in some sort of bear trap with the Guadalajara club for the past few years. His stock could not have been higher after the Olympics but his injuries and inconsistent play saw his probable European transfer fizzle. Fabian comes in with plenty of question marks. His commitment to the game and focus on the field have been readily questioned. Recently, he's been known more for his antics off the field than on. However, the potential is so clear. He's a dynamic creator in the true "el diez" sense. If his potential is met (this is admittedly a huge 'if') or even regained, this is a huge win for Cruz Azul. Again, he could fit such a clear need with the club.   

It would be unwise to expect a dramatic shift with Cruz Azul for this upcoming Clausura season. Anything can happen in the short tournament and playoffs, but Cruz Azul should be largely the same team. They will be in the Liguilla and have a (slim) chance at the title. My hope is that the direction the management seems to have taken this winter is part of a process of change moving forward. Perhaps, these are the first steps in building a younger and stronger squad. Looking at the best teams in the league currently (America, Leon, Santos), it's easy to see the importance of  building toward strength rather than simply trying to inject it straight.  

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