After the 2007 Copa America, a friend of mine from Chile was stoked that he was going was going to get the chance to see Humberto Suazo up close and personal. Rayados had made the move to snatch hime up, and Monterrey isn't too terribly far from Austin, you see.
"Monterrey is where good players lose their mojo." I warned him. History was on my side. It had been years since either Monterrey side had done anything worthwhile. It made no sense: both teams had loose purse strings and great fan bases. But they were both poster kids for perennial under-achievers. Big ticket purchases that were brought in never lived up to the price tag. Constant sell-out crowds usually left their stadiums disppointed. What was it about Monterrey that turned these great players into ones with two left feet? Was it the pretty Regias, the night life, the yummy food, the climate?
Humberto Suazo lived up to the billing. The Chilean forward scored goals at break-neck pace. With him leading the charge, Monterrey was in the mix, but that elusive title was still out of their grasp. That all changed in 2009, when two notable additions were made to the team.
The first was Victor Manuel Vucetich. The Monterrey coach has elevated Rayados to an unprecedented level of success. The other is Aldo de Nigris. His partnership with Suazo at top of Monterrey's formation has become without question the most dominant forward duo in North American Club soccer.
And they have the trophies to back up the claim.
Last night, Monterrey won their 5th title in as many years under Vucetich's leadership and the forwards' brilliant play. The last 32 minutes were a fitting microcosm of Rayados' era of excellence.
Down 2-0 in the second leg of the Concachampions Final, Monterrey needed 3 goals to snatch the title away from Santos Laguna and time was running out. The crowd, as they always have been, were there to support their side. They were never going to give up, and they did their level best to give the players a boost. It was de Nigris who got the first one back right at the hour mark.
Aldo de Nigris was a journeyman player when he got to Monterrey on loan in 2009, the year Monterrey won their first of the 5 consecutive trophies. The word on Aldo was that he didn't have the drive to be a top flight player. De Nigris lost his brother, Tano, (a former Rayado) right before the Liguilla to a heart condition. Aldo honored the memory of his brother by playing out of his mind in that post-season. After scoring more than a handful of goals, he lifted that trophy with the heaviest of hearts. He has been a fixture in Rayados' starting formation ever since, and his tenacity was never put into question again.
Neri Cardozo got the equalizer but it wasn't enough just yet. Cardozo exemplifies the shrewd signings Monterrey has made over the past few years. The Argentine could be a star on any other team. He has the versatility to play any midfield position, not to mention an excellent scoring punch. He's just another piece of the puzzle with rayados, and he made Vucetich look great last night as a second half sub.
De Nigis put his head on the goal that put Rayados ahead 3-2. Fittingly, almost poetically, it was Suazo who iced the game late. 5 trophies in 5 years. 3 straight CCL titles for the first time since 1969-71. With the continental three-peat, Rayados join a very exclusive club with Real Madrid, Ajax, Bayern, Estudiantes (not Tecos), and Independiente as the only clubs who have lifted their continental trophy three years in a row.
And what more can we say about Victor Manuel Vucetich? As Monterrey's fortunes have waivered somewhat in Liga MX, conventional wisdom was wondering not if, but when the Vucetich era would come to an end. It may happen sooner than later. When it finally comes to pass, it would not be surprising if city officials find a way to immortalize the coach who has brought so much joy to their citizens. Well, at least half of them.
And if my Chilean friend is reading, let me take a moment to say that I was dead wrong. I was wrong about Suazo. Wrong about Monterrey. And I hope he got a chance to see Chupete up close and personal. Maybe even lift a trophy.
He got plenty of chances.