Monterrey survived a challenge from a plucky Alianza side that kept the Rayados scoreless for 176 minutes, joining the Tigres and Santos in the quarterfinals.
Skipper Nico Sánchez converted a penalty kick with less than 5 minutes remaining after flubbing his first spot kick early in the second half to send the Rayados to a 1-0 aggregate victory over Salvadoran club Alianza.
The penalty was called when Monterrey winger Dorlan Pabón was taken down from behind just inside the box. This time, Sánchez went left and the goalie dived right, although the shot was not particularly special. If Rafael García had dived the other way, he would have had little trouble blocking the shot.
Star striker Rogelio Funes Mori was in the line-up this time after being held out the past few games due to muscle fatigue. He caused plenty of problems in the middle of the Alianza defense, and was unlucky not to score.
The Rayados got off 24 shots, 6 on goal, pressuring Alianza right from the opening whistle. Monterrey maintained 70% possession, but too often lacked imagination in the final third.
Miguel Layún forced the first save from García, firing a dipping free kick from 25 meters that García palmed around the post at full stretch.
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Just past the half-hour mark, Nico Sánchez powered a header straight at goal off a corner kick, but García was in position to smother the attempt.
Midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro was a constant menace, especially on the left side, but he rarely was able to find an open teammate in scoring position.
In minute 50, Funes Mori was mugged inside the box on a corner kick and Canadian ref David Gantar (pictured at top) pointed to the spot, but García guessed right and easily punches aside Nico’s waist-high shot.
Eight minutes later, Pabón came on as a sub and he spent the next 30 minutes pouring crosses into the box. Several of the passes were aimless, but many skimmed through the area where Rayados teammates sought to redirect them on target.
Layún had another free kick saved in minute 61 as García reacted in time to block the sharp-angled shot before it could get inside the near post.
Alianza gave the Monterrey fans a scare in minute 65 when Oscar Cerén was given space above the half moon and his right-footed blast nearly got past goalie Marcelo Barovero but the Argentine keeper got enough of his right hand on the ball to knock it onto the post.
Beginning in minute 70, Rayados forward Avilés Hurtado had a succession of shots from inside the box, popping two of the them over the crossbar.
The El Salvador club refused to give in and they moved forward in minute 77, but a clear scoring chance went a-wasting.
In minute 82, Pabón sent a long cross to the back post to Funes Mori who chested down the pass, stepped inside a defender and took aim but his low shot was blocked by defender Henry Romero. The ball bounced back to the prone Funes Mori and he pushed it to Jesús Gallardo but his follow shot sailed high over the crossbar. Just seconds later, Gallardo again had a clear look at goal only to fire high again.
Shortly thereafter, ref Gantar whistled the penalty that would lead to Monterrey’s win.
The Rayados move on to the quarterfinals with a 1-0 aggregate win. They will face either Costa Rica’s Herediano or MLS champion Atlanta United. Herediano defeated Atlanta 3-1 in the first-leg match and the return leg is in Atlanta on Thursday night.
Santos 5, Marathon 0
The Guerreros cruised to an easy 11-2 aggregate win as five different players scored against the overmatched Honduran side.
Marlos Moreno (minute 19), Julio Furch (22’) and Ulises Rivas (31’) scored first-half goals, while Eduardo Aguirre (82’) and Diego de Buen (a penalty kick in minute 85).
Coming off a 6-2 first-leg win in Honduras, Santos focused on maintaining possession (75% for the game) in order to control tempo and snuff out any hopes of a comeback right from the outset.
Santos coach Salvador Reyes did not use his starting line-up, but did not use academy players either. The Guerreros will face the New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinals in a two-game, home-and-home series beginning next week.
Three of the four Liga MX teams in the Champions League tournament have now qualified for the quarterfinals. The Tigres defeated Costa Rica’s Saprissa on Tuesday night. Toluca lost its first-leg match to Sporting KC and hosts the MLS club on Thursday night.
Red Bulls 3, Atlético Pantoja 0
The MLS club coasted to a 5-0 aggregate victory as Sean Davis and Daniel Royer scored first-half goals, dampening any dreams the Dominican team might have entertained.
The game got a bit physical as the Red Bulls relied on fouls to cut down the few offensive chances that Pantoja generated.