Final Norteño Shaping up to be a Good One


Monterrey took Santos down in Torreon earlier this season

Terrific stadia, fanatical crowd support, and two very talented teams. The Mexican Futbol final has the necessary ingredients to become a classic. The goal scorers will undoubtedly take all the headlines, as always. But, as always, the finals may be decided by those players who names or positions aren’t flashy enough to make the papers.

Both teams, though, will have some key absences in the first leg of the final Thursday night. Will either team step up and exploit the

GOALKEEPER

Santos’ Oswaldo Sanchez is older and has much more experience than his counterpart. But even with all those extra years on the pitch, Sanchez has only managed to win a couple of league titles. His presence in the box is comforting, but he has always had issues with aerial center passes, and his penalty saving is almost non-existent.

Jonathan Orozco may not have Sanchez' experience, but he is still one of Mexico's best keepers. He has complete command of the box and can match Sanchez parry for parry when it comes to reflex saves. He has also shown to be more effective than Sanchez when it comes to stopping spot kicks.

Edge – Orozco. This final may well end in a shoot-out.

Defense

Both back lines will have their hands full with the two most dynamic attacks in Mexican futbol.

Santos’s defense is the team’s biggest weakness. To make matters worse, they will be without their defensive leader, Panama international (and former Monterrey player) Felipe Baloy, who collected a second yellow Sunday vs. America. Will it be 20 year old Uriel Alvarez who gets the nod, or the diminutive, but indefatigable Ivan Estrada? Regardless, neither of these two will find it difficult to match up against Aldo de Nigris’ aerial game.

Monterrey will have their full complement of central defenders: Dulio Davino, Ricardo Osorio, and Jose Maria Basanta. The three have been solid all season long, but they do have trouble with speed. Guess what Santos has in adundance?

Edge – Monterrey. Baloy’s absence leaves question marks in an already shaky Santos defense.

MIDFELD

Both teams will be without their midfield generals in the first leg due to injury. Santos will be without Juan Pablo Rodriguez and Luis Perez is out for Monterrey. Rayados also have an abundance of quality creative types. Walter Ayovi, Nery Cardozo, and Oswaldo Martinez can all take over games for Monterrey. The problem is there aren’t enough spots for all of them. Santos’ depth will be tested, and it may mean that players will have to play out of their comfort zone in the first leg. We also may have a Daniel Ludueña sighting.

Edge – Monterrey has more depth, but Santos has a huge X-factor in Ludueña. When la achita is in the mood, there are none better.

FORWARD

Santos is stacked up top. As is Monterrey. Santos has league scoring leader, Christian Benitez. The guy who came in second is Monterrey Humberto Suazo. They are the this season's best forwards and will garner a lot of attention. So what about the second guys?

Aldo de Nigris catalyzed the passing of his brother into an unforgettable performance in the A09 liguilla. It was a real shame that an injury prevented him from making the World Cup. He has been solid this season as well, as he has benefited from putting the cherry on the plays generated by the people around him. De Nigiris is a good goal scorer, but he is more of a finisher, and not as much of a creator. The same can’t be said for the Goal Scientist, Carlos Darwin Quintero. The Colombian international has the speed and the ball skills to make his own opportunities, which will come in handy when Monterrey collapses its defenders around Benitez.

Edge – Santos may not have the midfield that Monterrey has, but their attackers don’t necessarily have to rely on them as much for service. A huge bonus in what are likely to be tightly played games.

COACHING

Ruben Omar Romano is one of several coaches in Mexico who have branched from the Ricardo La Volpe coaching tree. The foundation of the coaching philosophy is solid, but it has bore little fruit as far as league titles. Victor Manuel Vucetich is a little more pragmatic, and takes each game for what it is. He will probably manage risk a little more conservatively than his counterpart. Romano is in his 4th final and has yet to win one.

Conventional wisdom says Vucetich will play defensively in the first leg, and let Santos dictate the pace. Santos has to protect its thin defense, though, so they might concede a little more possession than people think.

Our next installment on the final preview will include thoughts from supporters in the bigsoccer community as well as “celebrity” fans.