Monterrey eyes late Liguilla push starting with Chivas

Monterrey midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro splits a double-team during the Chivas-Rayados match in March. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Monterrey midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro splits a double-team during the Chivas-Rayados match in March. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /

The Chivas are running out of time to make a playoff push but downtrodden Monterrey still has a few seconds on their clock.

Earlier this week, Chivas midfielder Isaac Brizuela told reporters the team had voted to  boycott Sunday’s match against Monterrey if Veracruz carried out its threat to skip their Friday night game against the Tigres. The Tiburones eventually played when a last-minute deal was struck with league officials to cover the months of back wages due to Veracruz players. Long story short, the Monterrey-Chivas game is officially on.

The Chivas come into this Matchday 14 contest in dire circumstances, sitting in the bottom three of the league standings, all but eliminated from the postseason. The bitter loss against America in the Super Clasico on Matchday 12 was deflating and a tough way for Luis Fernando Tena to begin his tenure of El Rebaño Sangrado.

“El Flaco” was in charge only four days before the 4-1 rout in the Clasico Nacional. His next game ended in disappointment, too. After leading the Pumas for most of the match at the UNAM campus, the Chivas gave up a goal in the 90th minute and settled for a 1-1 draw. The trip to Monterrey will be Tena’s third game as Chivas manager.

Guadalajara fell into 18th place after FC Juarez won on Saturday night, claiming only 12 points in 12 matches.

The Rayados haven’t looked so great either. They sit 14th in the table, but are only 3 points behind eighth-place Morelia. Complicating matters for Monterrey, however, is the fact that they must still serve their bye (next weekend). That means they can’t afford to let any points slip out of their hands, eepecially points at home.

Monterrey hosts Chivas
Antonio Mohamed (center) took over as Monterrey coach earlier this month after Diego Alonso was fired following a Matchday 12 loss in the Clasico Regio. (Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

The reigning Concacaf Champions League holders boast world class players such as Rodolfo Pizarro, Jonathan Gonzalez, Cesar Montes, Miguel Layun, Jesus Gallardo, Rogelio Funes Mori, Marcelo Barovero and Vincent Janssen. Unfortunately, they have underperformed this season and Diego Alonso paid the price. The front office blamed the coach for the club’s poor record and he was fired after the Matchday 12 loss against crosstown rivals Tigres in the Clasico Regio.

Rayados ownership turned to a former coach and Antonio Mohamed is back at the helm hoping to lead a charge down the stretch a run, and that’s not out of the question with one of the most impressive rosters in the league at his disposal.

Top Players to Watch

1) Rodolfo Pizarro: The player responsible for giving Chivas their three most recent trophies (under former coach Matias Almeyda). Pizarro always felt the Chivas didn’t  treat him fairly when they traded him, and coupled with that motivation is one of the most technically gifted players in Liga MX. He should find time and space against a weak Chivas and Pizarro is expected to step up and lead Monterrey into the Liguilla. What better way to do that than by spitting in the eye of the team that dumped you? All eyes should be focused on the midfielder Sunday evening.

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2) Vincent Janssen: The 2016 Johan Cruyff Award winner joined Monterrey late in the summer transfer window. It boggled minds when the already loaded Rayados signed him, but it legitimizes the intention of the Monterrey front office, bringing in a player of this magnitude. The past few seasons, Monterrey has relied on one player to get them through crucial moments, but more often than that player – Rogelio Funes Mori – has been off-target, or injured. I have asserted that Monterrey will only go as far as Funes Mori takes them, but having Janssen may change all of that. Janssen has already scored in league play, but on Sunday he could show that he is truly a difference-maker.

3) Chivas Forwards: With rumors of the imminent arrival of Ricardo Pelaez (the former sporting director at America and Cruz Azul), there is some eager anticipation around Chivas HQ. Every player is already aware that their job is on the line, and that includes aging veterans like Oribe Peralta and young studs like Alan Pulido. Pelaez has specific roster development ideas and both of those guys could be on the outs even if they produce down the stretch.