Cruz Azul coach Ferretti: Mexico Concacaf dominance "no longer exists"


Tuca Ferretti has known the narrative for a long time. And after Cruz Azul lost to Charlotte FC in a penalty kick shootout in the Leagues Cup Round of 32 Thursday night at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium, the legendary manager spoke about how that narrative has now changed.

“It's good that we have this competition, because many of you still think that Mexico is still the giant of the region,” Ferretti said. “That no longer exists. That is totally over. There are no giants in this region, or in any region, I think.”

Ferretti has seen that growth first-hand, especially in his decade coaching Tigres UANL when he guided his squad to a come-from-behind win over LAFC in the Concacaf Champions League final in 2020. That came two years after an epic quarterfinal clash with Toronto FC, which saw the MLS side advance on away goals following a 4-4 aggregate draw.

So, while some in the Mexican media are questioning why Liga MX sides have struggled in Leagues Cup – heading into Friday’s Round of 32 matches, Liga MX teams have lost all five knockout round encounters with MLS squads – Ferretti chalks it up to the evolution of the sport in North America that is being seen both from domestic clubs, but as well as its national teams.

In November, Canada, after topping Concacaf qualifying, made the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. A young United States side reached the Round of 16, while Mexico crashed out in the group stage.

“You might think that Americans and Canadians are still using coconuts for balls. I mean, it's a level of football that's really evolved and not just within the Concacaf region,” Ferretti said. “How far did the US get in the last few World Cups? How have they participated? So there's progress. It can't be that the Mexicans are the only ones who progress. No, the others also progress, they learn, they train, they play. It's only normal and good for them.”

A cool customer

There’s a special quality Kristijan Kahlina has that makes him the perfect goalkeeper to deal with the high-stakes dice roll of a penalty kick shootout.

“He's a cold guy,” Charlotte FC head coach Christian Lattanzio said. “In those moments he’s cold and passionate at the same time. But in those moments, he can be really focused.”

And in the oppressive Frisco, Texas heat Thursday night, no one was cooler than Kahlina, who made three saves in the shootout to help Charlotte FC advance following a 4-3 win on PKs.

The Crown will play Houston Dynamo FC in the Round of 16 Sunday at Shell Energy Stadium. They do so following a second straight win over Mexican opposition after a 4-1 victory over Necaxa.

“Good feeling. Penalties can go either way, but I thought that we competed very well against a very good Mexican team with many good individual players, well organized,” Lattanzio said. “I'm very proud, very happy. This is the second time we have won a shootout. There is a lot of positives in our game.”

And, thanks in part to Kahlina’s heroics, Charlotte took another big upward step as a club with the win over a storied Cruz Azul side.

“We are climbing and we want to keep climbing,” Lattanzio said. “When you climb sometimes you can be scared of the heights, but our boys manage that very well tonight.”