The sad part about the away goals rule: It’s the best we’ve got. Which is fine, most of the time. Rather than see teams go on the road in first legs, bunker, and try to take their chances at home with 0-0 results, we usual get actual games. Teams are rewarded for the risk with the profit of the away goals tiebreaker, and while you still see the occasional team play for a 0-0, it’s relatively rare.
The bad part about away goals comes with those 0-0 results. If you’re away in leg one and earn that 0-0, you go home only slightly better off, with a goal allowed at home meaning a second draw will send you out. Even if you pull back a ill-won penalty, random set piece, or act of Mats Hummels generosity, you still need another goal.
That’s the state Monterrey are in after the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. Away in Torreon, the two-time defending champions took a scoreless draw out of Estadio Corona, a result earned after playing the last 24 minutes with 10 men.
The match looked unlikely to end scoreless when the teams traded chances inside three minutes, with Humberto Suazo nearly giving the Rayados an away goal off a turnover deep in Santos’s end. Turning on a ball in the middle of the area, Suazo’s close range shot was close enough to Oswaldo Sanchez to draw a save from the veteran keeper.
The first half deteriorated, playing out as cagey as it was sloppy. In the second half, Suazo nearly scored again, putting a ball off the woodwork early in the period.
Early in the second half, Santos lost their most dangerous player. Mexican international Oribe Peralta was carted off the pitch after a Monterrey defender rolled over the outside of his right leg. Peralta was unable to get up after his knee bent inward at an unnatural angle, with Herculez Gomez eventually sent on to replace him.
In the 66th minute, Monterrey were forced to pull back, a dismissal leaving them hamstrung. Cesar Delgado, launching himself into a midfield challenge, saw straight red, leaving his team to play a man down. The match played out with the Guerreros laying siege, though few chances made it through the cluster of Monterrey defenders holding out for the draw.
In a way, Santos have only themselves to blame for the result. Normally a team that places a 4-3-3 formation, Santos elected to use a 4-4-2, even though they were at home. Perhaps coincidentally, the Guerreros rarely threatened Monterrey’s goal, their sacrifice of Gomez from their starting lineup failing to pay off.
The Rayados’ success puts next week’s decider in that weird, 0-0 netherworld. Are Monterrey really better off after leg one? In a position where they’ll need two goals if Santos score one, you can argue they’re the victims of the rule’s major quirk.
History, however, would suggest Monterrey’s in a good place. In their last 14 trips to Monterrey, Santos are winless, only five times managing a score draw.
Though there are potential pitfalls, Monterrey is closer to a three-peat after tonight’s result.