When Santos Laguna went up 2-0 after 50 minutes the CONCACAF Champions League title looked to be heading the way of Herculez Gomez and company. But in the final 30 minutes Monterrey exploded for four goals to snatch victory from the hands of their Mexican neighbor.
It was a display for the ages for the Rayados, whose spectacular comeback showed why they came into the match as the tournament’s two-time defending champions. Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side began the game very much in control but Darwin Quintero’s 37th minute goal from five yards out handed the Guerreros a 1-0 lead. Five minutes after the break Santos doubled its tally through Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy, who headed Osmar Mares’ corner into the side netting.
While Santos were dreaming of champagne celebrations, Monterrey had other ideas and their sustained pressure finally paid off in the 59th minute. Jesus Corona collected the ball on the right side and took his space with pleasure, driving down the field and crossing into the path of Aldo de Nigris, who cracked a one-time left-footed shot into the bottom corner.
With Guadalajara’s Estadio Tecnológico shaking under a vociferous crowd the Rayados found their equalizer in the 84th minute. Humberto Suazo’s corner kick was skimmed out to the top of the box where an unmarked Neri Cardozo hit a low burner that Oswaldo Sanchez was late getting down on. It was a decent shot but one where the defense and goalkeeper should have done better.
The leveler gave Monterrey plenty of momentum but still left Vucetich’s side down on away goals, forcing them to press on. Three minutes later the do-it-all Suazo dropped back to take a set piece play from 45 yards out and served a perfect ball into the box and onto the head of de Nigris, who re-directed it into the bottom corner for his brace.
Down 3-2, Santos barreled forward in search of the goal that would’ve brought the score level but it wasn’t to be as Pedro Caixinha’s side were caught stretched in stoppage time. Jesus Zavala collected the ball just inside midfield and tore into the Santos box, slipping a delightful pass under the onrushing Sanchez for Suazo to thump home. It was justice served for the Chilean striker, who had been heavily involved in the Monterrey attack throughout the entire 90 minutes.
For Santos, it was a crushing blow but one that on the balance of play, seemed a fair result. With the victory, the Rayados will represent the CONCACAF region at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.
For U.S. international Herculez Gomez, it was a night of missed touches and, arguably, missed calls. Despite playing a vital role in Santos’ run to the finals, he was omitted from his side’s Starting XI and had to wait until the 63rd minute to enter the match. Inserted as a left midfielder, Gomez’ role was primarily defensive as Santos tried to preserve its lead. The 31 year old was his typical hard-working self, lacing two shots off target while earning a caution for some feisty play. Gomez almost earned his club a breakthrough in the 90th minute as he laid claim for a penalty but referee Marco Rodriguez wasn’t interested.
In the end it was disappointment for the American, who has recently been linked to a transfer back to MLS where he could star for either Toronto FC or Seattle, possible in a Designated Player role.