No one can really be surprised that there are 3 Mexican teams in the Concacaf Champions League semi-finals. The real surprise, of course, came at the expense of the North American Galácticos. Monterrey, Santos, and even Pumas were favorites to advance past their quarterfinal opponents. But hardly anyone could have predicted the scandalous aggregate scorelines. Once the smoke had cleared, the three Mexican teams had outscored their counterparts 23-6.
It was like watching the Gold Cup.
I continue to maintain the position that I am a big fan of this tournament, as I favor anything that makes the region stronger. But I will also be the first to admit that not only do some teams take the tournament a little more seriously than others, one has to consider how teams are playing coming into the tournament as well.
Morelia had been doing well prior to the first leg, they are currently second in the table, but Thomas Boy made some questionable personnel decisions in their home leg - most notably pairing up strikers that had not played together at all this season. Morelia had their chances, but so did Monterrey, who fielded strong sides both home and away. The result -- a 7-1 aggregate win for Monterrey. Rayados had been struggling with injuries for the better part of the Apertura, not only failing to make the playoffs at home but also suffering the indignity of being knocked out of the first round of last year's Club World Cup. With Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris rounding into form, a much healthier Monterrey took Morelia apart pretty easily, and are also surging up the league table, only 2 points from the top spot.
That spot is currently held by Santos, who had to come from behind in their home leg vs Seattle Sounders in order to advance. They did so with an emphatic 6-1 trouncing of the MLS side. Unlike Monterrey, Santos has been steady eddies in both the CCL and the home league: They were finalists last season, and currently lead the league. Moreover, the Laguneros can match Monterrey's lethal attack with one of their own with Hercules Gomez and Oribe Peralta. In fact, it is amazing how similar these teams are: A terrific one-two punch spear heading the attack? Check Savvy veteran midfields with speed on the edge? Check Bend but not break defense? Check Net minders who don't leave their coaches' hearts in their throats? Check
Needless to say, these two are prohibitive favorites to advance to the CCL final, and thanks to CONCACAF's desire to hopefully stage the second leg in Carson, Santos is the benefiary of LA Galaxy's quarterfinal collapse, as they would get to host the 2nd leg of the final, provided they defeat Toronto.
Monterrey will have to get by Pumas, who were laughed out of El Salvador last week after Metapán took a 2-1 1st leg on their home field. How could one of the "big 4" lose to a Central American team, is what most of the pundits were asking? Of course, they had conveniently forgotten that Santos had dropped their game at Metapán, 2-0. Also lost in the quest to humiliate (in Mexico the phrase is make firewood from a fallen tree) is that Mexican teams always struggle in Central America. It's one of the CONCACAF truisms.
However, another truism says that Central American teams struggle even more in Mexico, and in particular, Mexico City. Pumas has been struggling this year as many of their players seem to have synchronized their slump cycles. They took it out on the Salvadorian squad, though, hanging a snowman on the scoreboard. While the 8-0 scoreline was flattering, it may turn out to be Pyrrhic. Pumas lost their skipper, Darío Verón, to a broken pinky toe for the rest of the season. The Paraguayan has been the heart and soul of Pumas' very stingy defense for the better part of the last half dozen years. Some of you may also remember him turn in a quality effort in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals vs. Spain, where the Guaranís almost pulled off the shocker.
The quarterfinals showed that Mexican clubs continue to be the dominant force in the region. They absolutely deserve the 4 slots they are allotted in the tournament. The jury is still out on whether or not MLS deserves the same.