There will be no secrets between Santos Laguna and Monterrey when the two sides meet to decide the club champions of CONCACAF this week. It’s the second time in as many years the two clubs from northern Mexico meet in hopes of being crowned regional champions and booking a place at the FIFA Club World Cup, to be played in Morocco in December.
Monterrey have won the last two installments of the CONCACAF Champions League and one more will see them become only the second team in history, along with Cruz Azul, to win the continental crown three times running. “We are going for that third appearance,” Monterrey striker Aldo De Nigris, who scored twice in the semi-final series against LA Galaxy for the Rayados, told FIFA.com. With a goal and two assists in last year’s FIFA Club World Cup, De Nigris was a crucial part of a Monterrey side that finished third, a best-ever placement for a team from the CONCACAF zone.
“Winning those titles and taking part in the Club World Cup twice is the biggest thing this team has achieved in the international arena,” added De Nigris, a not-so-secret weapon of wily Monterrey boss Víctor Manuel Vucetich, who commands a team largely unchanged from last term. “We want to go back there [to the Club World Cup]. We know how much it means.”
Along with De Nigris, Monterrey, who are currently mid-table in the overall Mexican Clausura standings, have a number of powerful weapons. Chilean striker Humberto Suazo is lethal in front of goal and Ecuadorian Walter Ayovi holds things together in midfield so Argentine Neri Cardozo can pull the strings on the creative side. Monterrey beat Santos 3-2 over two legs in last year’s final series.
Santos Laguna have more than just a missed chance last year to motivate them, however. Los Guerreros, from the northern city of Torreon, got the better of Monterrey in a Mexican first division contest at the weekend. Felipe Baloy scored the only goal of the contest that put Santos Laguna into the top-four of the current Clausura standings and cemented their place in the post-season play-offs.
In the last six meetings between the two sides, Santos have the edge in what is a very tight and tense rivalry, having won three times to Monterrey’s two, with the two other contests ending in draws. The sides also met in the final series of the 2012 Mexican Clausura, which Santos won in impressive fashion.
Time right for Santos
Santos are spearheaded by American international striker Herculez Gomez, a predatory striker with a knack for scoring important goals. At the back, they will rely heavily on the physically robust presence of Panamanian international centre-back Baloy as they hunt their first-ever regional title.
Edgar Lugo, who patrols the midfield for Santos, has full confidence that his side can win and secure their place among the world's top teams in Morocco. “This is a very important game,” he said of the first leg. “We are in confident mood and we are physically right where we need to be. We want to achieve big things.”
The first leg of the Champions League final series kicks off Wednesday night, with Santos hoping to take full advantage of their familiar field and atmosphere. They lost the first leg last year 2-0 on the road in Monterrey. The final of the Champions League in its current form (it was the CONCACAF Champions Cup until 2008) has only been contested by two Mexican teams, except when Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer lost out to Monterrey for the trophy in the 2010/11 season.
Both Santos Laguna and Monterrey are desperate to begin the final series with a positive result, with a share of history on the line for both sides. The second leg will be played in Monterrey at the Estadio Tecnologico on 1 May.