Santos Laguna are behind at the halfway mark of the CONCACAF Champions League final series, but they have reason for hope. Having pulled off come-from-behind victories in both the quarter-final and semi-final rounds of the continental showpiece competition, the men from Mexico’s northern desert outpost of Torreon are strong at home and keeping the faith that they can overturn Monterrey’s 2-0 lead.
“In the last two return legs we’ve scored 12 goals at home,” said USA international striker Herculez Gomez, who has scored six times for Santos in this edition of the Champions League and returns to action after missing the first leg against Monterrey through suspension. “We are a strong team that plays strongly in our stadium due to our fans. We have to continue that way,” he added of his team that have not lost at home in ten games.
In the quarter-final round, Santos lost their first leg to MLS outfit Seattle Sounders 2-1 before reversing the result with a resounding 6-1 win at their Estadio Nuevo Corona (Gomez scored two). Then, in a similar pattern, they lost their semi-final first leg 1-0 in Toronto before heading back south to book a place in the final with a 6-2 win (Gomez again scored twice).
Santos have also never lost a final series, in any competition, when they have been at home in the second leg.With such a positive home record in recent rounds, and the return of their talismanic Gomez to the line-up, Santos will be fancying their chances of overhauling the deficit and hoisting their first-ever CONCACAF Champions League trophy. Unfortunately for hopeful Santos, Monterrey boss Victor Manuel Vucetich is not content to sit on the laurels of his first-leg win. “We take a lead with us, but the most important part remains. 90 minutes remain,” said the man who has famously never tasted defeat in any final as a coach.
Santos’ hopes will be bolstered by the fact that Monterrey will have to play without their main attacking threat in the second leg. Chilean scoring sensation and tournament top-marksman Humberto Suazo scored both goals in the first leg for Los Rayados, but the yellow card he picked up inside the first five minutes means he has to sit out the all-important return.
“It's a very important loss for us,” said Vucetich, who will now look to the returning Cesar Delgado for goals. “We have to look for other players. We have players that have always responded in important moments.”
Santos did not emerge from the game unscathed either, and will have to make do without Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy and Osmar Mares. “The series is for either team. I think that with an early goal or something in our favour, we can reverse the score," said Santos defender Ivan Estrada, who will need to hold things tight at the back.
The current final series is the third all-Mexican affair in the last four instalments, since the CONCACAF Champions League switched formats in 2008. Monterrey are defending champions. Santos, although never champions on the continental stage, are currently the points leaders in the Mexican Clausura, four points ahead of fifth-placed Monterrey.