The Rayados must go on the road to protect a 3-goal first-leg lead, while underdog Independiente visits Kansas City on Thursday
Monterrey thoroughly dominated reigning MLS champion Atlanta United at home last week, but now must protect their 3-0 lead at the raucous Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Georgia Wednesday night in order to advance out of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals.
The Rayados will hope to avoid the dangers experienced by Santos on Tuesday night, when the Guerreros allowed two quick goals to wipe out their first-leg advantage before recovering late to reach the semifinals.
On Thursday, Panama’s Independiente will take on Sporting Kansas City with a 2-1 lead from the first leg.
Monterrey at Atlanta United
The Rayados arrive with a comfortable 3-0 advantage from the first leg back home. But now they will be playing in front of – arguably – the best home crowd in the Americas.
Atlanta United plays in Mercedez-Benz stadium in front of crowds in excess of 70,000 known for their rowdy cheers and enthusiastic support. United regularly outdrew the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons last year.
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On the other hand, United are a new franchise (just starting their third year of existence) and have no collective experience in this tournament. Yet in the Round of 16, United lost the first leg away from home 3-1, only to bounce back and beat Costa Rica’s Heredia 3-0 to reach these quarterfinals.
Monterrey will have no choice but to shut out the crowd noise and go about their business. And that business is seeing out a 180-minute win and advancing to the CCL semifinals. The Rayados dominated the first leg at home, peppering Atlanta goalie Brad Guzan throughout. Monterrey outshot United 17-5 and locked down Atlanta’s offense.
There is also some sideline drama. Monterrey coach Diego Alonso took some heat over the weekend after playing it conservative in the Clásico Regio while trying to protect a 1-0 lead. Fans – and management – would have preferred that the Rayados continued to press forward. Instead, the Tigres stole a late equalizer and Alonso got testy in the post-game press conference.
Look for the Rayados to present a strong defensive formation designed to exploit Atlanta on the counterattack. If Dorlan Pabón, Avilés Hurtado and Rodolfo Pizarro get free through midfield, watch out United! Monterrey could earn an all-important road goal that would force Atlanta to win by 4 goals.
The winner of this series will play the winner of the Independiente-Sporting KC series. The referee in charge of the match will be Juan Mora of Costa Rica.
Independiente at Sporting KC
First-time Panamanian champion Independiente has acquitted themselves well in the first international tournament. Las Abejitas eliminated MLS giant Toronto FC in the Round of 16 by trouncing the Reds 4-0 at Estadio Agustín Muquita Sánchez in the first leg, then battling them to a 1-1 draw in Toronto.
In the first leg in Panama, Independiente sat back and played off the counter. And they did so spectacularly. Despite only 29% possession, Las Abejas got off 18 shots, 7 of them on target. The hosts got on the board before halftime and Kansas City tied the match in minute 51, but it only took 8 minutes for Independiente to retake the lead.
One key might be how the Panamanian club responds to the cold temperatures expected at kick-off. The thermometer could drop below 40-degrees (5-degrees Celsius). Kansas City will attempt to be physical and exert pressure into the offensive third while hoping to see how Las Abejas goalie José Carlos Guerra can stand up to a barrage of shots.