TORREON, Mexico -- If the CONCACAF Champions League final can be as good as this game, then it could one entertaining affair.
Only five days prior to the first leg of the confederation's championship showdown, Santos and Monterrey put on a show at the Estadio Corona in a pairing of Mexican powerhouses on Friday night.
Santos recorded a 1-0 victory in the Liga MX confrontation. Felipe Baloy tallied the lone goal in the 17th minute.
Both goalkeepers were at the top of their games. Monterrey's Jonathan Orozco stood out as he made multiple vital saves to keep the visitors within striking distance. Santos' Oswaldo Sanchez produced several big stops in the second half to earn the clean sheet.
The result improved Santos to 29 points (8 wins, 5 draws, 2 losses), while Monterrey (20 pts.), the two-time defending CCL champion, fell to 6-2-7.
Though the teams will meet in the CCL's first leg on Wednesday, both coaches did not hide much as they used many regulars. Monterrey started eight of the 11 players that began its 2-0 home win over Pachuca last weekend, while Santos used seven starters from its 2-1 home victory over Toluca.
Los Guerreros dominated the early part of the match, while Monterrey tried to thrive on its counterattacks.
That strategy nearly worked in the 10th minute as Los Rayados found themselves on a 2-on-1 break. Neri Cardozo swung in a left-wing cross to Mexican international Aldo De Nigris, who had only Sanchez to beat from eight yards on the right side. But De Nigris somehow shanked his shot well wide left.
Santos drew first blood in the 17th minute. Osmar Mares sent in an in-swinger from a corner kick to Baloy, who worked his way away from his marker as he hammered a five-yard header into the net past Orozco. Baloy celebrated by throwing kisses to the crowd.
Five minutes later, U.S. international striker Herculez Gomez tried to double the lead with a long-range attempt, but Orozco caught his drive.
Monterrey came close to equalizing in the 31st minute, when Chilean international Humberto Suazo's spot-on cross from the left wing found an open Edgar Solis in the penalty area, but the defender fired his shot at Sanchez.
Orozco denied the hosts again in the 40th minute, blocking Juan Pablo Rodriguez's 35-yard free kick with his body. The ball bounded free before the keeper pounced on it.
Santos had another close encounter in the 50th minute. An overlapping Mares found Oribe Peralta at the near left post, but the Mexican international had little room to shoot as his attempt went out of bounds.
Orozco continued to save Los Rayados, kick saving a Peralta shot from atop the box in the 57th minute.
Sanchez had his moments as well. Barely a minute after coming on for Cardozo, Joaquin Hernandez tested the Santos goalkeeper, launching a 24-yard shot that Sanchez managed to parry out of bounds for a corner kick in the 64th minute.
Again Sanchez was called on to produce another key save in the 77th minute, knocking away a long-range blast from Suazo. Three minutes later, Suazo came close again with a header from point-blank range, but Mares cleared his shot with a header of his own.
Santos will host the first leg of the aggregate goal series on Wednesday, visiting Monterrey for the second leg on Wednesday, May 1. The winner will qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup, which will be played in Morocco from Dec. 11-21.