By Jose M. Romero
For FOX Deportes
The match that drew most of the attention was the UEFA semifinal between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – won by the German side on penalty kicks to send it to the European championship. But there was another exciting soccer match played Wednesday a little closer to home for us norteamericanos.
The championship of our world soccer region, CONCACAF, took place Wednesday night at Estadio Nuevo Corona in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. It was the deciding second leg of two, with defending CONCACAF Champions League champ Monterrey on the road at Santos Laguna.
Monterrey gave up the game’s first two goals, but all it needed was one to win the title on aggregate goals 3-2, and it happened in dramatic fashion. Neri Cardozo executed a nice give-and-go with teammates Walter Ayovi and sprinted into the box for a shot that beat Santos goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez in the 82nd minute, cutting Santos’ lead in the match to 2-1.
Cardozo got a beverage and plastic cup shower for his troubles from the hometown crowd, but he was too busy basking in the adulation of his teammates to mind. The final score, coupled with Monterrey’s 2-0 first leg win at home in Nuevo Leon gave Monterrey the 3-2 win in the series and the right to carry the trophy for a second straight year.
Santos, the leaders in the Mexican Primera Division who with fifth-place Monterrey will be in the playoffs after this weekend, came out on the attack early and dominated play on offense for much of the game. Safe to say that Monterrey’s goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco was under heavy pressure in the first half.
Energized by a full house in their home stadium – near where shots were fired during a game in August that caused players on the pitch to run and duck for cover and the game that day to be stopped – the Guerreros had a number of very good scoring chances in the first half that made this game exciting right from the start.
Monterrey was missing its top striker, Humberto “El Chupete” (seriously!) Suazo due to suspension on accumulation of yellow cards in the CCL tournament. Daniel Luduena’s wonder strike just before the halftime whistle gave Santos a 1-0 lead and began their comeback.
Santos Laguna had seven shots on goal in the first half and they were all quality chances. Monterrey had none.
When Oribe Peralta scored in the 51st minute – a play set up by teammate Darwin Quintero’s amazing run in which he split two defenders – the final was tied on aggregate goals at 2, and overtime was near. The crowd was electric.
At one point, the fans could be heard singing the Florida State/Atlanta Braves war song and chopping the air with their hands. I guess some things cross international borders, things you wouldn’t expect.
The goal by Cardozo sent the stadium into a fury, for it seemed the fans knew it was going to take a miracle for Santos Laguna to rally.
When the match ended, Monterrey earned the right to represent North America in the Club World Cup, which will take place in Japan in December.
This tournament is the kind you’d have to look for on a Spanish-language channel, or if you have Fox Soccer Channel. It’s still relatively obscure for soccer fans who don’t follow the game with a lot of fervor, but it is an entertaining annual event where the best from Major League Soccer and the Primera Division play Canada’s best, plus other top club teams from Central America and the Caribbean.
The matches are often played in front of almost empty stadiums, but it’s soccer on our side of the world. It is what it is.
Mexican teams own CCL. A team from Mexico has won the past seven titles and Mexican teams have played for the championship of the region five of the past seven years. MLS had Real Salt Lake in the final a year ago but it lost to Monterrey.
My hope is that MLS teams start taking this tournament more seriously. MLS teams can win games in Mexico, now they just have to win the most important ones so the playing field can be leveled in the region. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time. It creates better competition and more interest in the game in the U.S. or Canada, where such interest is needed most.