Pablo Aguilar the biggest key to Cruz Azul's hot start, massive turnaround
In recent weeks, there has been no shortage of excitement when it comes to Cruz Azul.
Under the new era of sporting director Ricardo Pelaez, La Maquina has quickly transformed into one of the most dominant teams in Mexican soccer. After kicking off the season with three wins in three matches, recent signings such as Elias Hernandez and Roberto Alvarado have gained plenty of praise for what they have been able to provide in the attack.
All that said, no newcomer has been more important to Cruz Azul than Pablo Aguilar. Despite the fact that the defender hasn't dominated headlines as much as some of his teammates, there's no denying his utmost significance to a side that has yet to allow a goal.
When looking at stats from the three wins, no player in the squad has collected more tackles or clearances than the 31-year-old Paraguayan. There is much more to his game than just defensive interventions as well. Only Ivan Marcone has amassed more accurate passes this season for Cruz Azul, and when watching the Mexico City club play, Aguilar is no stranger to launching long and accurate lobs forward.
Credit must also be given to his partner in the middle of the backline, Julio "Cata" Dominguez. Although the form of the 30-year-old Mexican has gradually declined over the last few seasons, Dominguez seems to have rediscovered some much-needed energy with Aguilar working alongside him. At the time of writing, the central defensive duo has appeared the most reliable and solid center-back pairing in the league.
For those who already know a bit about Aguilar's previous Liga MX journeys, this immediate dominance shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
Before his move to Cruz Azul, Aguilar was more well-known for his three-year run with Club America from 2014-2017. With the South American in the roster, Las Aguilas were able to clinch two CONCACAF Champions League trophies and one Liga MX title. Despite an infamous 10-game ban in 2017, which was earned after head-butting a referee in March of that year, Aguilar had no problems with re-establishing his high level of play when he returned in late July.
Following a move to Club Tijuana in the 2018 Clausura, it was there that Aguilar was able to prove that he was one of the top defenders in the league. With the Paraguayan covering an immense amount of space through his aggressive presence, Xolos finished the regular season with only 12 goals allowed in 17 matches. In his short time with the squad, Aguilar was able to assert himself as not only the best defensive player, but also the captain of the border town team.
Now, in the early stages of the current Apertura tournament, Cruz Azul fans have been able to watch the veteran seamlessly transition over his commanding style. Coupled with a renewed attack and midfield, the Mexico City club has now emerged as one of the more intimidating Liga MX sides.
Over the weekend, La Maquina was able to showcase this supremacy in a high-profile match.
With Aguilar in the starting XI, Cruz Azul gained a statement-making 1-0 win last Saturday over Tigres. Thanks to Dominguez and Aguilar patrolling the backline, and a goal from Alvarado in the second half, La Maquina earned three hard-fought points against the most talented and powerful team in the country. Following the victory over the league giants, confidence is now at an all-time high for this Cruz Azul roster.
If Cruz Azul is able to maintain this momentum, there's no reason why a title wouldn't be within reach in the near future. It might still be far too early to make these kind of championship predictions, but after what we've seen in the first few weeks, fans of La Maquina (and Aguilar) have every right to dream big.