The odds of a “Clásico Regiomontano” taking place during the Liguilla increased dramatically after Friday’s quarterfinals results.
Something about the state of Nuevo León doesn’t agree with Santos Laguna and the next time the Guerreros see the city of Monterrey again will be way too soon.
The top-seeded team has been to Monterrey twice this season and has been outscored 9-2 for their troubles. And now Gullermo Almada and Santos are in danger of being escorted out of the playoffs on the very first weekend.
Meanwhile, the other Monterrey-based team – the Tigres – visited Mexico City and captured a hard-earned 2-1 win over the América Aguilas. And they did so with a rookie making his Liga MX debut in goal.
That puts both “regio” teams in fine position to advance to the semifinals, keeping alive the possibility that one of the continent’s best soccer classics could be in the offing.
Monterrey puts Santos in a choke-hold
The No. 8 seed Rayados were not given much of a chance against the table-topping Guerreros. After all, they were playing without top scorer Rogelio Funes Mori, without playmaking wizard Rodolfo Pizarro and without jack-of-all-trades Miguel Layún. Heck, even with those three players, Monterrey only managed to sneak into the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season.
Then captain Dorlan Pabón and Funes Mori’s stand-in Vincent Janssen played out of their minds, wreaking havoc all over the field and slicing giant holes in the Santos defense. Pabón had two goals and an assist and Janssen had a goal and an assist, and each created a number of other scoring opportunities. The result was a devastating 5-2 win for the Rayados, a near knockout of the heavily favored Guerreros.
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Pabón scored the opener just 2 minutes into the match, smashing a shot from above the left corner of the box into the netting inside the far post. A spectacular 28-meter shot that Santos keeper Jonathan Orozco had not chance at. Just 6 minutes later, the Colombian dynamo lofted a perfect cross from a corner kick that Nico Sánchez headed powerfully into the net.
Only 5 minutes after taking a 2-0 lead, the Rayados had the ball in the net again, but a lengthy video replay overturned the goal when Janssen was ruled to have controlled an outlet pass with his arm. The call was quite controversial as the replays available were not convincing.
Monterrey seemed to be in trouble when Santos reacted – finally – and found two goals before the half to head into the break tied at 2-2.
The hosts continued attacking in the second half and their all-out assault on Santos was rewarded in minute 54 when Lionel Vangioni and Jesús Gallardo stripped Carlos Orrantia was stripped of the ball in his own defensive third. Vangioni sauntered into the box along the touchline and forced a pass into the box that trickled toward goal where Santos winger Brian Lozano tried to clear it only to bank it off teammate Gerardo Arteaga and into the net. 3-2 Monterrey, and Santos appeared momentarily deflated.
Fifteen minutes later, a hustling César Montes got to a loose ball in the Santos box off a corner kick before Ulises Rivas and was clipped by the Guerreros midfielder. The resulting penalty kick was taken by Janssen and he banged it home with authority.
As Santos pressed forward in an effort to narrow the gap ahead of the return match, Janssen and Pabón struck again. With 5 minutes to go, the Dutchman stole a back pass off a Santos corner kick along the sideline, turned upfield and fired a long diagonal pass to Pabón racing into the Santos half. The Colombian dashed forward and just before reaching the penalty box he sent a sublime chip shot over the head of Orozco and into the net. 5-2 Rayados.
Santos must overturn the 3-goal deficit at home on Sunday and Monterrey will be salivating at the fast break opportunities that await.