The Tigres and Monterrey march toward a Clásico Regiomontano in the Concacaf Champions League Final.
An all-Liga MX final in the Concacaf Champions League appears to be a virtual certainty unless Sporting Kansas City can overcome a 5-0 deficit in the return match against Monterrey on Thursday night. The other semifinal – Tigres and Santos – is guaranteed to produce a Liga MX finalist.
In the other semifinal, the Tigres take a 3-0 advantage to Torreón to face Santos as they aim to reach their third CCL final in the past four years. The Tigres have yet to win a CCL title while their cross-town rivals, the Rayados, would love nothing more than to bookend the decade with a new trophy to put on the shelf next to the three they won in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Tigres at Santos
Enner Valencia netted two first-half goals after Edu Vargas had opened the scoring in minute 8 and the Tigres coasted to victory at home last week. Santos management responded by firing coach Salvador Reyes who had been unable to keep the Guerreros from slipping out of postseason contention in league play. Even so, it was a surprise.
Santos has been a scoring machine in CCL play but Tigres goalie Nahuel Guzmán stood tall between the pipes, making 7 saves to frustrate the Guerreros who desperately fought to find an away goal to improve their chances in the return match.
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Tigres top scorer André-Pierre Gignac has begun training with the team again after more than a month away with a knee ligament sprain, but he will not be in the line-up. Instead, coach Tuca Ferretti will rely on his trident of Valencia, Vargas and Julián Quiñones, the latter of whom scored a brace against UNAM over the weekend.
The midfield pairing of Guido Pizarro and Rafa Carioca will be tasked with shutting off the middle of the pitch and slowing down Diego Valdes and Marlos Moreno (or Javier Correa). At the back, Carlos Salcedo and Hugo Ayala must keep Santos striker Julio Furch away from goal, but that is no easy task.
The key for Santos will be finding room on the flanks either through Ayrton Preciado and Lozano with fullbacks José Abella and Jesús Angulo pushing forward in support. Midfielder José Juan Vázquez typically provides a reliable shield in front of the Santos back line, but the Tigres opted to go around him instead of challenging him. “El Gallito” will likely have to chase the ball this time around and the central defense tandem of Dória and Hugo Nervo will have to be mistake free.
If the Tigres score a goal, then Santos will have to win by 4.
Rayados at Sporting KC
Monterrey looked magnificent at home against their MLS rivals last Thursday then phoned it in against Toluca on Sunday, losing 5-1. Still, the Rayados are in third place in the Liga MX standings.
The Rayados hammered KC last week, blasting 18 shots at Tim Melia while Rayados keeper Marcelo Barovero only saw 2 shots on goal.
With a 5-goal deficit, Sporting desperately needs an early goal which should open them up to the counter-attack, something the Rayados are quite good at. If Monterrey scores at Children’s Mercy Park, the hosts will have to win by 6.
Monterrey coach Diego Alonso might hold out a few starters and captain Dorlan Pabón comes to mind. Alonso and Pabón nearly came to blows after the loss in Toluca when the coach scolded the skipper for his lack of effort. The Rayados have a decent bench, so a decision to rest players ahead of the stretch run in the league with this semifinal series virtually sewn up would not be a terrible surprise.
Notes: Should Monterrey advance, this would be the 7th time that two Liga MX teams meet for the CCL title since Concacaf shifted to the current champions league format 11 years ago. … The MLS has never won a CCL trophy. … The Liga MX has won all 10 CCL tournaments since the format shifted from an 8-team knockout stage to the current format. Initially, the CCL featured 24 teams starting with preliminary stages or group stages. Now the CCL features 31 teams with 16 teams playing in a league format to produce a champion who advances to the Round of 16 where the other 15 teams (5 from MLS, 4 from Mexico, 3 from Central America and 1 from the Caribbean).