• Saturday May 12, 2012

    REVIEW: Mexican leaders climb above CCL



    Giovanni Savarese is a former Venezuelan international who has played professionally on three continents, including in his native country, and now works as an analyst for the ESPN family of networks, which is a CONCACAF Champions League TV partner. He scored 10 goals in 30 games for the "Vinotinto" before retiring as a player in 2007.
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    By Giovanni Savarese
    CONCACAF.com Guest Analyst


    It's already a tradition to see Mexican clubs in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League.

    Since 1962, they have won 27 CONACAF club titles - including the last six straight.

    This year is no different - and the two Mexican teams that will fight for the crown - Santos and Monterrey -- are at the top of the Clausura title chase as well.

    Combined, Santos and Monterrey haven't lost in 17 matches - a streak that if it holds would invite a titanic clash by the first leg April 18 at the Estadio Tecnologico in Monterrey.

    Los Rayados of Monterrey reached the final this year almost like it did last year. A year ago it went undefeated into the finals. This year, after an opening 1-0 loss to Communicaciones, it again went unbeaten.

    But unlike last year when it faced Real Salt Lake, now it will face a familiar foe in Santos Laguna.

    Victor Manuel Vucetich's squad may be the favorite of many to lift the trophy, but it has a tough opponent in front of them.

    Santos Laguna leads the Mexican Clausura by two points over Monterrey, a team it drew 1-1 with on February 18 in Torreon. Although it lost to the Sounders in Seattle in the first leg of the quarterfinals, and drew 1-1 with Toronto in the first leg of the quarterfinals, it has won six straight in the Champions League at home by a combined 26-6.

    Both teams and their current form allow us to predict that we will have a very exciting final.

    Monterrey reached the final by beating Pumas in the semifinals. "Los Rayados" won the first leg 3-0 at home thanks to a pair of goals by Aldo de Nigris and three assists by Humberto Suazo. The result allowed Vucetich to leave Suazo and De Nigris on the bench for the second leg and give a chance to Abraham Carreno and Cesar Delgado up front -- a clear example of the depth of Monterrey's roster.

    After Angel Reyna gave Monterrey the lead in the 35th minute of the second leg, Monterrey led 4-0 on aggregate and was able to quietly dispose of Pumas in a game that had little drama.

    The other semifinal promised more fireworks - after the fracas that immediately followed the 1-1 first-leg result in Toronto, and the potential for upset grew when Joao Plata put Toronto FC ahead early in the second leg.

    Herculez Gomez, who has six goals in his last four Champions League matches, equalized in the 31st minute.

    Plata and Gomez both scored again in the first half, sending the teams into halftime tied 2-2 and Toronto still in position to advance on away goals. However, two penalties by Juan Pablo Rodriguez put Santos in control and further goals from Oribe Peralta and Daniel Luduena turned a close match into a rout.

    It's an appropriate final if we consider that Santos and Monterrey have been the best teams this season in the Champions League - losing only two of 16 games between them.

    The two Mexican teams, coached by managers who aren't afraid to play for a win, promise an exciting final full of goals. I already have reserved a spot on my sofa and won't miss this final for anything.

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