FOX Soccer Exclusive
Cruz Azul, America face off in friendly
The reigning Mexican champions and their bitter Mexico City rivals quite rightly figured the status quo – or something thereabouts – made plenty of sense after their successful Clausura campaigns. América ended its eight-year title drought with perhaps the strongest squad from top to bottom in the league. Cruz Azul eradicated some of its demons by lifting Copa MX to end its own dry spell and fed a few others by falling at the last hurdle once more in the Liguilla final.
Those successes mean that most of figures from the compelling night remain in the mix ahead of the friendly between the two teams on Sunday in Frisco, Texas ( FOX Soccer, 3p.m.). A few of the faces have changed and the stakes pale in comparison to the last meeting or any other Clásico Joven, but this match still merits plenty of attention due to its combatants and provides compelling insight for the upcoming Apertura season.
Most of the focus falls upon the holders as they prepare to complete any lingering celebrations and mount their title defense. América manager Miguel Herrera can count upon most of his returning regulars and recent arrival Luis Gabriel Rey as he starts his preparations, but the departure of Diego Reyes and future of Christian Benítez do present quandaries he must solve before the season kicks off next month.
Reyes completed his lucrative move to FC Porto after trudging off in the wake of Jesús Molina's first-half red card in the final. His development and his increasing assuredness means his absence leaves a void, but it is not one Herrera must fret. América possesses depth in central defense with Aquivaldo Mosquera, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela all retained for the upcoming season.
The prospect of replacing Benítez – the top scorer in league play over the past three campaigns – looms far more difficult, but the Ecuadorian international has not confirmed his anticipated exit. Benítez expected to attract significant attention from European clubs in the wake of his exploits. Those potential offers – including mooted interest from Tottenham Hotspur – have yet to yield a concrete move, though América sporting president Ricardo Peláez said recently the club plans to move forward without him.
If Benitez does depart, then Herrera must find a way to compensate a striker who has scored at least 13 goals in each of the past three tournaments. Emerging star Raúl Jiménez will shoulder plenty of the load, but the process may involve contributions from a handful of potential options – including Ecuador international Narciso Mina and veteran poacher Rey – and increased output from midfielders as well.
Cruz Azul manager Guillermo Vázquez will focus on extracting the most from his current squad and integrating ex-Morelia winger Joao Rojas into the mix. The carefully concocted formula of the second half of the season remains largely intact. Vázquez will have to rely on Mariano Pavone to stay healthy with reliable substitute Javier Orozco now plying his trade with Santos Laguna. He will also lean on aspiring El Tri midfielder Christian Giménez to create his usual havoc in midfield, Luis Perea and Jair Pereira to offer some steel in defense and current Mexico number one Jesús Corona to supply his usual heroics between the sticks.
Some of those characteristics will appear as usual at FC Dallas Stadium on Sunday, while others may have to wait for competitive matches. Both teams will cope with absences and missing players, but the objectives and the structures remain the same. With the season poised to start in a few short weeks, this edition of the Clásico Joven will help to lay the foundation for the gauntlet ahead over the next few months.
Even though this affair will not reach the dramatic heights of that wonderful Sunday night in May, it still provides a chance for these two rivals to mark their progress against each other heading into the new season. And with both teams once again poised to vie for Liga MX superiority, it is a measure worth taking with the Apertura on the horizon.