By Dylan Butler
MONTERREY, Mexico - Monterrey became the first team to book its ticket into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, playing Guatemala's Xelaju to a 1-1 draw Tuesday at the Estadio Tecnologico.
The two-time defending champion, which won the series 4-2 on aggregate, advances to the semifinals for a third consecutive campaign and will face either the LA Galaxy or Herediano in the next round.
Xelaju struck for the game's first goal in the 44th minute as Fredy Taylor rose unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box and headed Sergio Morales' free kick into the net to pull the visitors within 3-2 on aggregate.
Monterrey equalized in spectacular fashion on a long distance free kick from second-half substitute Walter Ayovi that goalkeeper Fernando Patterson could only watch curl in the back of his net in the 63rd minute.
Monterrey took the opening leg 3-1 last week at Estadio Mario Camposeco with Hiram Mier, Aldo De Nigris and Jesus Corona scoring for the Mexican powerhouse. Julio Estacuy scored for Xelaju.
The host had the first scoring chance of the second leg as Guillermo Madrigal accepted Darvin Chavez's cross inside the box, turned and put his 14-meter shot on frame. But Patterson dived to his left to save the low shot in the fifth minute.
Monterrey dominated possession in the opening 20 minutes, stinging a bevy of passes together with little resistance from the visitors.
Xelaju finally threatened in the Monterrey defensive third in the 27th minute, when Allan Aleman flicked a cross by Sergio Morales just over the bar from 12 meters.
Aleman was again a threat in the 38th minute with a 22-meter free kick that goalkeeper Juan De Dios Ibarra parried over the bar with his right hand for a corner kick.
Three minutes later, Monterrey had its best opportunity of the first half, but Leobardo Lopez headed Humberto Suazo's free kick off the post from just outside the six-yard box.
Monterrey emerged from the halftime break as aggressors and Cesar De La Pena nearly equalized in the 51st, when he pounced on deflected ball at the top of the box. His first time shot, though, bounced wide of the net.
Eight minutes later, the hosts had another chance on a quality buildup as Jose Basanta's cross found Suazo at the top of the 18-yard box. The Chilean took a touch onto his left foot, but fired wide of the target.
In the 62nd minute, Bastanta curled a shot from the edge of the box just wide of the net. However, Ayovi wouldn't miss a minute later, putting a perfectly placed free kick over Xelau's wall. The Ecuadorian's goal ensured the Rayados safe passage into the semifinals yet again.