1 vs 8 match-up no walkover for Santos Laguna

Rodolfo Pizarro will get plenty of attention from Santos defenders all game. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Rodolfo Pizarro will get plenty of attention from Santos defenders all game. (Photo by Armando Marin/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Santos led the Apertura 2019 virtually from start to finish, earning the top seed in the Liguilla, but Monterrey is no pushover.

Of course Monterrey is in the Liguilla, right? The Rayados boast the biggest payroll in Liga MX and are rightly considered a serious title contender, but a month ago they were in 11th place.

No worries, Antonio Mohamed took over as coach on Oct. 9 and led The Striped Gang to a 3-1-0 finish and the eighth and final seed in the playoffs. No doubt, Santos Laguna is muttering to itself, exasperated that their reward for finishing first after a splendid Apertura 2019 is a first-round playoff date with the preseason favorites.

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Typically, the 1 vs 8 match-up is a sure thing and the top seed waltzes into the second round. This season, it is no sure thing, but Monterrey takes on the league leaders with some injury concerns. Leading scorer Rogelio Funes Mori is out of the first leg at home Thursday night, nursing a calf injury he picked up against Atlas in the season finale. The Argentine striker scored twice early before subbing out, his goals providing the margin of victory that earned the Rayados their playoff berth.

Late summer acquisition Vincent Janssen (formerly of Tottenham) will have the chance to prove his worth, inheriting the striker spot from Funes Mori. He scored his first league goal against Santos back in August.

Monterrey will also be without jack-of-all-trades Miguel Layún who tweaked a knee against Atlas, but they do get left back Lionel Vangioni who has missed the Atlas game with a leg injury. This will allow the dangerous Jesús Gallardo to move forward into midfield where he can team up with Rodolfo Pizarro and Carlos Rodríguez.

Santos has fitness concerns of its own as goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco is returning from surgery to address adductor issues. Orozco is a key cog in the Santos attack, often generating offense with quick outlet passes with both arm and leg.

Santos Monterrey Liguilla
Midfielder Fernando Gorriarán joined Santos from Hungarian club Ferencvaros this summer and has been a revelation. (Photo by Oscar Meza/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Elsewhere, the Guerreros are healthy and the team’s two MVP candidates – winger Brian Lozano and midfielder Fernando Gorriarán – have been in fine form. Gorriarán led the league in turnovers created (9.35 per game) and is a key component of the Guerreros’ transition game.

Lozano and striker Julio Furch will test Monterrey’s defensive discipline. Lozano and Furch each had nine goals to lead the league’s highest-scoring offense (40 goals in 18 games).

Key Players


Ulises Rivas and Diego Alonso are the unsung back-up players in the Santos midfield. Rivas has teamed up well with Gorriarán, breaking up plays and getting the ball upfield quickly. He will have to pay close attention to Pizarro who is elusive in the middle of the pitch and a great distributor. Alonso is the link between the midfield and the forwards and his role will be to change direction quickly to both slow down the Monterrey attack and create quick change-of-possession scoring opportunities. Santos is the most vertical team in the league and Alonso will be tasked with maintaining that approach.


Pizarro will be the focal point of the Rayados attack but Celso Ortiz might be the most important player on Thursday night. Ortiz is Monterrey’s disruptor and he will have to be very alert against Santos since the Guerreros’ average time of possession is 6 seconds. The Paraguayan midfielder will have to be extremely disciplined with his positioning and will need help from Charlie Rodríguez to limit the verticality of the visitors.

Odds and Ends

This is the fifth playoff meeting between these two franchises with the all-time series tied at 2-2. They last met a year ago, also in the quarterfinal round, with No. 5 seed Monterrey advancing past the fourth-seeded Guerreros by winning both games. … Santos won the regular-season match-up 2-1 at home on Aug. 23 (Matchday 6). … Monterrey coach Antonio Mohamed is gunning for his third Liga MX title, but his first with the Rayados. “El Turco” won the Apertura 2012 with Tijuana then led América to the Apertura 2014 title.