Cruz Azul show old ways in Campeones Cup loss to Columbus Crew

Frustrated and tired, Cruz Azul’s weary-looking manager was clearly bothered after losing 2-0 to the Columbus Crew during Wednesday night’s 2021 Campeones Cup.

“This is soccer,” said Juan Reynoso in his post-match press conference. “And the people who win in soccer are the ones who overcome adversity.”

It was a self-reflective moment from the Peruvian.

Furiously scribbling on his drawing board during the game's early stages, Reynoso grew desperate after initially going down 1-0 in the 4th minute off a Bryan Angulo own-goal, caused by Lucas Zelarayan's free kick. More numbers were thrown forward, and through that haste, he inadvertently gave the Crew space to roam off dangerous counters that were spearheaded by players like Miguel Berry.

Berry, the 24-year-old striker who encountered Mexican first-division veterans like Pablo Aguilar and Julio Cesar Dominguez, was a perfect encapsulation of Columbus in the Campeones Cup.

He didn’t see much of the ball, but when it landed at his feet, he was a menace with dangerous runs forward that befuddled Cruz Azul’s backline. Berry, a former SuperDraft pick out of the University of San Diego, cleverly goaded and provoked fouls from Cruz Azul that muddled their approach.

The Liga MX side quickly lost their nerve. As the game progressed, their irritations were made even more evident through imprecise passes and crosses that only seemed to increase their anger. Notably, that frustration caught them making clumsy fouls, including one in the 73rd minute that provided a golden opportunity for the home team with a 1-0 lead.

Following the ensuing free kick that bounced off Cruz Azul’s wall, Columbus left back Milton Valenzuela picked up the ball before perfectly launching it over to Jonathan Mensah, who headed it into the back of the net. The 2-0 final scoreline was settled.

“It hit us hard,” said Reynoso about chasing the equalizer before allowing a second from the Crew. “We couldn’t recover from there.”

No matter their time on the ball that produced 74.5% possession, there was no amount of cautious lateral passes or inaccurate crosses that would allow Cruz Azul to sneak anything past Columbus’ defense or goalkeeper Evan Bush.

Once the final whistle blew, the Liga MX team solemnly walked off the field knowing what had just fallen out of their grasp.

The Mexico City-based club has dropped momentum since winning a Liga MX title last season, and this wasn’t just a chance to kickstart their lackluster start to the 2021 Apertura tournament. It was also an opportunity to showcase their full-fledged revival under Reynoso.

Months after shedding their image of a cursed club and group of players that are prone to dramatic failures, Wednesday’s loss felt like a regression. For Reynoso, what likely hurt the most was his belief that they deserved more.

“The anger and the frustration that you were superior…it wasn’t reflected in the result,” stated the manager.

Nonetheless, the Crew were deserved winners.

On a deeper sporting level, they also helped bring a bit of the North American battle for club soccer supremacy back north of the border.

In a year that will have Liga MX names attached to Leagues Cup and Concacaf Champions League titles, stealing the Campeones Cup away keeps things interesting in the budding rivalry between MLS and Liga MX – especially after MLS’ victory in the All-Star game presented by Target.

As for Cruz Azul and Columbus, we’ll just have to wait and see what this match means for their playoff hopes in their domestic leagues.

But that’s another story.