By Dylan Butler
The new season's CONCACAF Champions League starts the same way the last one ended in April - with Monterrey on the field.
Monterrey defeated Santos Laguna to capture a second consecutive CONCACAF Champions League title and the Rayados kick off their title defense Tuesday night in a Group 7 opener against Chorrillo from Panama at Estadio Tecnologico.
Winner of two of the last three Mexican Premier Division titles as well, Monterrey is enjoying its most successful era in club history.
"Monterrey is the current champion and therefore is obligated to defend its title," striker Aldo de Nigris said. "It's a long path to take, but we know what the tournament's all about. We are conscious that to open with a victory is very important, so that's what we will look to do in our debut."
Monterrey is a relatively unchanged team with the duo of Chilean Humberto Suazo and de Nigris arguably the most potent striking duo in Mexico. However, captain Luis Perez transferred to Chivas, a significant loss in the midfield and in terms of leadership.
The lone newcomer is midfielder Edgar Solis, who arrives on loan from Chivas.
Argentine defender Jose Maria Basanta now wears the captain's armband for Monterrey, which drew its Mexican league Apertura opener against America and lost to Morelia on Friday night.
The offense hasn't scored a goal in 180 minutes.
"The most important thing for us is the goal," Vucetich said after Friday night's defeat. "We could not capitalize on a game full of many mistakes and then we made it difficult to open their defensive sector and we played the counterattack."
No doubt, Monterrey will be heavy favorites against Chorrillo, which is making its Champions League debut after winning the Panamanian Apertura title.
Underdogs against Monterrey, Chorrillo is considered by some a favorite to win a second straight Apertura championship in Panama. Chorrillo opened its league account with a 0-0 draw against Arabe Unido on July 22 and fell 3-0 to home to Tauro on Saturday.
A huge concern for many teams is balancing a domestic campaign and the Champions League, but Chorrillo manager Miguel Mansilla is confident his squad can handle the rigors.
"We have staff to play two tournaments, we have enough players and we hope to do well in both competitions," the Uruguayan told Dia a Dia.
Real Salt Lake's last taste of the Champions League was a 1-0 loss at home to Monterrey in April 2011, resulting in a 3-2 aggregate defeat that left the club just short of the title.
The Major League Soccer club opens its Champions League campaign Tuesday night against Herediano at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. It is the opening match in Group 2.
"We're coming off a couple of good results here. I think we all know it's tough though, it's not going to be an easy place to play," Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers said. "The atmosphere is going to be very negative toward us, but it's going to be fun, a great challenge. We're ready to get back to CONCACAF."
RSL is two points behind the San Jose Earthquakes for the best record in MLS this season, having won three of their last four including a 2-1 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio scored twice, giving him 13 this season including six in five matches in July. Coach Jason Kreis chose to keep three regulars - Jamison Olave, Ned Grabavoy and Chris Wingert - out of the starting 11 ahead of Tuesday's Champions League opener.
"I'm ready right now to go home and scout Herediano, to do everything we can so that we're very properly prepared," Kreis said. "This is a big, big deal to our club, a big, big deal to our fans and a huge deal to everyone in the locker room."
Herediano, which is making its third Champions League appearance after capturing a Costa Rican league title for the first time in nearly 20 years, defeated Santos 2-0 to open the Costa Rican Apertura Friday. Jose Miguel Cubero and Ismael Gomez struck in the second half for Herediano.