One of the problems with Mexico’s format is good teams end up playing each other far too often, particularly in the Clausura. The league’s January-to-May tournament runs in parallel with CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stage. If two teams get hot, there’s a good chance they’ll meet for two-legged ties in both tournament’s knockouts. Added to the league’s qualification stage games, that’s five games in as many months. If you saw that in Football Manager, you’d report it as a bug.
Just over 24 hours ahead of the first leg of the Clausura’s final, there’s a slightly different feel engulfing over Monterrey and Santos Laguna (who you might know better by the unintentionally ironic “Hercules Gomez’s Santos Laguna”). There’s some actual anticipation, a bit surprising given how often these two have occupied the same field.
Over the next four days, Mexico’s top two finishers will wage their fourth and fifth battles of 2012, though after last month’s Champions League final, nobody’s complaining. Then, Monterrey took a 2-0 lead after the first leg at the Technologico (where the Clausura final begins), but in the second half in Torreon, Santos drew even within six minutes of intermission. The Rayados salvaged the final eight minutes from time, Neri Cardozo’s left foot giving Monterrey their second consecutive Champions League:
The result only furthers the idea this match pits bridesmaid against bride. Santos has finished runners up in four of their last five competitions dating back to the 2010 Apertura. By contrast, Monterrey sits as the most successful team in this quadrant, if you focus on recent results. In addition to their pair of Champions Leagues, the Rayados have collected league titles in the 2009 and 2010 Aperturas.
A deeper look a history is no more kind to Santos. Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Rayados and Guerreros have met 24 times. Santos has only won five times, with one of the wins (last month’s in Champions League) ending with Monterrey celebrating the confederation title at the Estadio Corona – hardly a victory. The last time Santos have been able to leave a Monterrey match smiling was December 2010, six matches back.
Clearly, nobody will be tuning into this one to see the next chapter of an unclaimed rivalry. It’s the opposite feeling that’s providing the intrigue: The idea that a team of Oribe Peralta, Carlos Darwin Quintero, Christian Suarez and Daniel Ludueña (and yes, Gomez) can only be contained for so long. This was the top-finisher in Mexico. They had the league’s best attack. Surely there isn’t some kind of Rayado voodoo (Rayadoo) that’s keeping the Guerreros from greatness. It’s time for the Warriors to renounce their obligation to the crown.
That crown goes beyond Monterrey’s nickanme. In these big games, Monterrey have played like the chosen ones. As evidenced by their performance last year at Rio Tinto and their result this spring in Torreon, Monterrey has a gear the rest of the region’s teams lack. There is a balance to their team enabled by Humberto Suazo – the man who can give the Rayados so many different looks – that others can only envy. He can play Luis Suárez to Aldo Di Nigris’s Andy Carroll. He can also be Robin van Persie to Ángel Reyna’s Mikel Arteta, or Suazo might play Wayne Rooney to Cesar Delgado’s Antonio Valencia.
That’s what really separates Monterrey from everybody else, especially Santos. The Guerreros have a lethal playbook, but it’s a thin one. They can spread the field and pick you apart with their spread, but when matched up against defenders Jose Basanta and Hiram Mier, they may need to provide a second look.
Monterrey has their own strong central defense to contend with, but with a playbook that would make Mike Shanahan blush, the have a number of ways to worry Aarón Galindo and former Rayado Felipe Baloy. There is, after all, a reason Santos hasn’t been able to stop Monterrey.