CONCACAF Champions League: What kind of team do Cruz Azul bring to Sporting Park?
On Wednesday night, Sporting Kansas City will face the top team in Liga MX this season (8 pm ET, Fox Sports 2). Most fans would expect, therefore, to see a team that dominates possession and constantly peppers the opposing goalkeeper. In reality, Kansas City's opponent is going to look much different.
While tops in the Liga MX standings, Cruz Azul are actually 12th in when it comes to possession, averaging only 47.4 percent possession this season. La Máquina also sit ninth in shots attempted, excluding blocks.
They are more known for their high pressure and four opportunistic attackers who do not need many chances to find the net. The primary attacking players in Cruz Azul's 4-2-3-1 formation, Mariano Pavone, Mauro Formica, Marco Fabián and Joao Rojas have combined for 12 of Cruz Azul’s 18 goals. Pavone, the lone striker, is tied for the fewest shots among the four and has created the most chances of the four with 14.
The main scoring threat has actually been Fabián, formerly of Chivas Guadalajara. Coming over in the offseason, the 24-year-old has finally been able to get back to the goalscoring ways he showed back in 2010-11. Capable of playing either wide attacking spot, Fabian has taken the most shots, 21, of any Cruz Azul player and has been able to get 15 of those on target. His four goals are tied for the team lead with Formica.
Another strength for Cruz Azul is their goalkeeper, Jesús Corona. Battling for the No. 1 spot for the Mexican national team, Corona has only helped himself with his performances at the club level. He has saved 85.4 percent of shots that have come at him this season, second among Liga MX goalkeepers who have played at least five games.
Part of what makes Corona so successful is the four players in front of him. Rogelio Chávez, Luis Perea, Julio Dominguez and Fausto Pinto have played the vast majority of back-line minutes, and they have helped Cruz Azul concede only six goals in 10 games. Chavez has even pitched in with three goals, one in spectacular fashion.
Will all of these players start on Wednesday night? Probably not. But expect those who do take the field at Sporting Park to follow a very specific, Cruz Azul style of play, one that has been very successful so far.