When I was first becoming aware of the beautiful game in the late 70's, it didn't take me long to decide which team was for me. Universidad (which is what they were predominantly called back then) stood out because of the goal scorers and the badass uniforms. Besides, I was going to pick a team from Mexico City because I am a natural born Chilango.
Back then, I had plenty to choose from. And if I was from Guadalajara, my options weren't limited either. Teams from Mexico City and Guadalajara made up almost half the league. Living in the capital, I could have sworn allegiance to UNAM, Cruz Azul, Atlante, Club America, or Atletico Español. A little further out in the Capital's footprint were also Toluca and Neza. 7 teams from which to choose. Guadalajara had no shortage of teams: a total of 5 played in the first division: Chivas, Atlas, Tecos, Leones Negros, and Jalisco. There were other outposts (de provincia -- you can take me out of Chilangolandia, but can't take the chilango out of me) that fielded teams at one point or another... Puebla, Tampico, Guanajuato, Zacatepec, San Luis, and Monterrey to name a few.
So it would stand to reason that chances were pretty high that a Mexico City or Guadalajara club would win the title. And they did. Lots of 'em.
Well, at least, Mexico City clubs, anyway (the Campeonísimo was before my time, and I am sure yours as well, Chivas fan).
Obviously, times have changed. Mexico City is down to only 3 teams, and Guadalajara will only have 2 clubs in the first division next season (unless Leones Negros win promotion -- they are in the fight). This season, in particular, has seen power surge in the North, while only Club America is the only DFajara club that has guaranteed themselves a place in the post season. The three Northern clubs are in the league's top 4. It's not an anomaly (and we can't forget Tijuana, either, but their story has yet to be written). Not only have Tigres, Monterrey, and Santos have all won titles in the past few years, two of those editions have come at the expense of each other. And there will be another great northern showdown this week as Monterrey and Santos square off in the Concachampions finals tonight (10pm ET, FSC).
It's no real surprise that these squads have been able to attain this level of success. Have you seen who the club owners are?
Santos Laguna is owned by Grupo Modelo, as in the brewery that produces Corona, Modelo, Negra Modelo, Victoria (my current fav), etc.
FEMSA is one of the largest beverage companies in the Americas, and among its holdings is Monterrey.
CEMEX, one the world's largest cement companies, has controlling interest in Tigres.
The money isn't new; it has always been there. Team management? Not so much. While Santos has always been somewhat competitive and occasionally dominant, the Monterrey teams were a joke. How funny? Think Clippers, Mets, and Jerry Jones. Both teams spent and spent and spent, but had nothing to show for it, other than a fancy revolving door they need to install for all the coaches they hired and fired. Players that were considered excellent would go to Monterrey and, well, under-perform.
For Rayados, that all changed with the arrival of two people: Humberto Suazo and Victor Vucetich. Suazo, another high-priced signing, came to Rayados after a brilliant Copa America in 2007. And in a city where good players' careers often derailed, Suazo didn't suck. In fact, the Chilean became the league's best player. As good as Suazo was, Monterrey still needed help, and they found it in a coach who had quietly built a very strong resume in the course of his career. Victor Vucetich has won at every level he has coached, from the third division on up. And he has never lost a final. Ever. He has won three for Monterrey, who are enjoying an era of unprecedented success.
Not to be outdone by their crosstown rivals, Tigres decided to drop off a cement truck full of money at the doorstep of one Tuca Ferretti in 2010. Discipline has halways been the backbone of Ferretti-coached team. Clowns need not apply, and it didn't take long for the former Pumas coach to lay down the law and turn Tigres around. They finished last year's Clausura at the top of the table, and then gave Tigres fans what they had been longing for for 30 years six months later: a league title. Like Vucetich, Ferretti has done well to find a balance among the big ticket players, the foot soldiers, and the youngsters. Now that they are all playing up to their capabilities, Tigres has emerged as one of the most talented teams in the league.
Santos has not been around as long as their neighbors in Monterrey, but they have already built quite a legacy. Of course, it helped to build a team around a once in a lifetime goal scorer like Jared Borgetti, but Santos has close to a permanent seat at the big boy table. Santos have missed on a few decisions over the years, but more often than not, shrewd personnel moves have kept Santos in the title conversation. They also have leveraged a terrific fanbase into one of the better home-field advantages in Mexican Futbol, which at one point included a Sunday afternoon start (did I mention Torreón is in the Desert). The second leg of the Concachampions will be played at the Territorio Santos Modelo Stadium.
Santos and Monterrey rested players over the weekend to get ready for the first leg at the Tec tonight. And I don't think we'll be seeing any defensive oriented formations: they are the highest scoring teams in both the local league and the CCL. 7 of the competitions top 12 scorers are either Rayado or Guerrero. In other words, we should see some goals.
And we should see both these teams, along with Tigres, make deep runs in the upcoming Liguilla as well. Not to bad for the Provincia teams.