Serves 'em right!

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:58 PM ET

Cruz Azul may not have meant to make it look like it was taking Toronto FC lightly, but that’s how it looked.

Right from the opening kickoff, Cruz Azul oozed arrogance. Coach Enrique Meza used only three men at the back, believing that Toronto TFC could offer little in attack. Coming off a huge 4-1 win over Pachuca over the weekend in Mexican League action, Meza switched out six members of his starting lineup for Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Reds.

How important was that win over Pachuca, the reigning continental champ? Pachuca coach Guillermo Rivarola was so embarrassed, he resigned after the loss. In Mexico, a Pachuca-Cruz Azul game carries the weight that a Barcelona-Real Madrid tilt would in Spain.

So, after such a big win on the weekend, it’s not a surprise that Meza made wholesale changes for what he clearly saw as a less important game. Mexican teams are known for starting reserve sides for the early stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, their way of thumbing their noses at what they see as inferior opposition. After all, Cruz Azul has been to the final of the last two CCLs, so it’s not like the club doesn’t know how to navigate the early stages of the competition.

And Cruz Azul hadn’t given up a goal to MLS opposition in CONCACAF Champions League play before facing TFC. Four previous games against MLS teams, four clean sheets.

Meza said he simply had to make the changes.

“I had to try and get some fresh legs in,” he said through a translator. “Toronto hadn’t played since Wednesday, we have got to play again Sunday.

“Toronto has very good players; I don’t agree that we came here overconfident.”

Javier Orozco, the all-time leader in goals in CONCACAF Champions League play, started on the bench, as did Gerardo Torrado, Mexico’s World Cup captain.

But even more important was Meza’s decison to put two reserve defenders, Alejandro Castro and Julio Cesar Dominguez, in his back three.

There was delicious irony in the fact that Toronto’s opening goal — a header into an open net from Martin Saric — was created after a series of defensive misplays and miskicks by Cruz Azul’s back-up defenders in their own penalty area.

And the goal came after back-up keeper Yosgart Gutierrez parried a header from Mista right into Saric’s path. It was a comedy of errors.

Gutierrez was also found wanting on Mista’s goal, getting his fingers to the shot but not being able to push it wide.

Meza’s reserve players were his undoing.

He tried to fix his tactical mistake. Halfway into the first half, he changed his back three to a back four, asking left winger Fausto Pinto to track back into a left-back slot.

Finally, he brought in Torrado, the best defensive midfielder in Mexico, at halftime, and just three minutes after being introduced, he bowled Saric over. Finally, Cruz Azul’s midfield had its leader back. The problem was, Torrado was introduced too late to be a game changer.

Torrado denied that Cruz Azul took TFC too lightly. He commended TFC’s fans for giving the Reds a boost of energy, allowing them to dominate in the first half. In fact, he was so impressed with the way MLS is progressing, he hinted he might want to finish his career in the league.

Orozco was brought in with a half-hour left in the match. Other than show off his flashy neon pink soccer cleats that looked like they came straight out of Miami Vice, he didn’t have an impact on the game.

Maybe the back-ups weren’t good enough to beat this lowly Canadian team, after all. Unlike their four previous encounters with MLS opposition in the CONCACAF Champions League, Cruz Azul was duly punished for not starting its best players, whether it was forced to or not.

“The effort wasn’t enough,” said Meza. “We leave with a sour taste in our mouths.”


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