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Atlanta United vs Cruz Azul, 2023 Leagues Cup: Match Preview

It’s win or go home against the Los Cementeros at the Benz

Cruz Azul v America - Copa Por Mexico 2022 Photo by Jonathan Mondragon/Jam Media/Getty Images

Atlanta United’s Leagues Cup debut was one to forget, but all isn’t lost - yet, at least. The Five Stripes have a shot at redemption when it hosts Liga Mx side Cruz Azul Saturday in the final group stage outing in what pretty much has come down to a play-in game for the Round of 16.

Cruz Azul is one of Mexico’s big four clubs, but it’s most known for its impressive and repeated feat of losing spectacularly in the last moment, or just generally choking. In fact, it’s done that so much that there’s even a verb for it - Cruzazulear. Returning to the here and now, however, Cruz Azul also fell victim to Lionel Messi’s Miami but by a far more modest scoreline of 2-1. In fact, La Maquina was the better side overall and could have easily won if not for incompetence in front of the goal. Nonetheless, that defeat only made head coach Ricardo ‘Tuca’ Ferretti’s seat hotter, and according to reports, anything less than a win Saturday would see him dismissed. While losing to two MLS teams certainly wouldn’t help his cause, Cruz Azul’s winless start in Liga MX play is the real reason he’s under pressure. La Maquina has 3 losses from 3 in domestic play and is rock bottom of the Apertura standings. That’s continued a trend of mediocrity since its 2020/21 Clausura title (sounds familiar doesn’t it) and though Ferretti was able to salvage Cruz Azul’s 2022/23 Clausura after the sacking of the previous manager, it’s looking like he won’t be able to keep Cruz Azul from being, well, Cruz Azul for long.

Cruz Azul has scored just twice in all competitions this season while it conceded 2 goals in every game it’s played. That’s despite (or perhaps because of...) the recent arrival of Carlos Salcedo to anchor the backline alongside Colombian Willer Ditta. His countryman Kevin Castano is one to keep an eye on in midfield, while Brazilian winger Moises and striker Diber Cambindo round out the attacking reinforcements. All in all, that was $21 million spent in the summer window without much to show for so far, with the sole exception of Castano.

SPORTS-SOC-MLS-ATLANTA-MIAMI-1-MI Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Atlanta United’s mediocrity was on display for the whole world to see Wednesday, but the good news is Lionel Messi won’t be an everyday opponent for the Five Stripes. The bad news is that might not matter anyway considering how horrid Atlanta’s defense has been all season. It still has a shot at advancing, however, but Gonzalo Pineda’s side must beat Cruz Azul either in normal time or on penalties if the scoreline is tied after 90 minutes. If not, then we’ll be graced with a 3-week recess from this team.

Predicted Starting XIs

Atlanta’s Predicted XI (3-4-2-1)
Cruz Azul’s Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Prediction: Atlanta United 2-3 Cruz Azul

Cruz Azul’s desperation from four straight losses will power it past an Atlanta side unfortunately lacking much pressure on those in charge to turn things around. Both teams’ wobbly defenses will be on full display but this time Cruz Azul will find its finishing boots and move on to the next round.