The Throw-In: If you can't beat 'em ... How MLS can pick apart CONCACAF champs Monterrey
If you can’t beat ’em, break ’em up. That’s been one of the recurring themes around MLSsoccer.com over the past few weeks as Monterrey were en route to winning a third straight CONCACAF Champions League title, which they did in stunning fashion on Wednesday evening.
And hardly anyone has been able to beat Monterrey. No team did so during this edition of the CCL. In fact, over their three consecutive successful runs through the tournament, they lost only three times through 33 total matches, outscoring opponents by a stunning 70-22.
Who will stop Los Rayados? Who will end the reign of the first club to three-peat as CONCACAF champions in 42 years? Instead of relying on a single team to vanquish them, maybe it's time for Major League Soccer clubs to break up Monterrey themselves.
It may not happen immediately – especially with the FIFA Club World Cup in December – but it’s never too early to scheme on how to weaken the region’s best club before facing them again.
Here’s a five-step plan:
1. Chip away with the one most likely to leave. Walter Ayoví might be the easiest get. He’s the only big-name Monterrey player whose contract is up, and he’s said himself he’d "love to play in MLS." A graceful veteran with a World Cup and three Copa Américas under his belt, he’s smart, savvy and still has a lot to offer.
The Ecuadorian left-sider doesn’t have the pace he once did – he’ll turn 34 in August – but he is still serviceable on the left side of midfield, has proven to be a contributor at defensive midfield and still plays left back for his national team. That kind of versatility and experience would be a great fit for a team like New York or FC Dallas.
2 & 3. Break up the MLS-killing strike duo. Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo are both locked up for another few years, but with Colombian sensation Dorlan Pabón set for a summer move to the Estadio Tecnológico, someone could be made available.
In my opinion, the classic target man de Nigris is a quicker fit for MLS. He’s an expert banger in the box with a sweet finishing touch and he’s able to function beautifully as a lone striker. That skill set makes him a natural fit in Chicago.
It would be tough: He’s a Monterrey native, only 29 years old and on a big-money contract until 2015. But he’s also by all accounts, a PR man’s dream, with an easygoing personality, a surprisingly humble side and a willingness to do community work.
He’d be a successor to the groundwork laid by other former Mexican icons Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Pável Pardo. The Sector Latino would go loco for this guy, as would every Fire fan. Note to Javier Leon and Frank Klopas: At least make the phone call.
The Fire did make a play for that other guy, who has punished MLS teams in CCL perhaps more than any other guy not named Herculez Gomez. Suazo is positively lethal as a finisher, and has matured into a deep-lying striker in the last couple years, which has added new weapons to his arsenal.
And while it’s a no-brainer to get this guy, his best fit is in a two-striker set behind a mazy runner – not necessarily a de Nigris, even though there’s plenty of precedence for that – but paired with a guy who functions best closer to goal.
So try this one on for size: How about “El Chupete” at Real Salt Lake? The Utah club doesn’t have the budget to nab a player whose new deal has him locked up through 2016. But if he was willing to leave before, maybe he’d do it again – and Dell Loy Hansen would have his legacy purchase as the sole owner of the club.
Plus, the idea of Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis grabbing the guy who ended their CCL dream in 2011 wouldn’t just be poetic: Suazo and Álvaro Saborío would combine to be arguably the scariest strike duo in MLS history.
4. Get the most important role player. Neri Cardozo is happy at Monterrey and has found a nice niche as a part-time starter at left wing. He’s no longer the young Argentine national team prospect he once was at Boca Juniors, but he’s still hugely useful and, at 26, has plenty to offer.
And that’s where you appeal to his patriotic side. A few of his countrymen that fit his exact profile have recently made the jump to MLS: Portland’s Diego Valeri, Columbus duo Federico Higuaín and Matías Sánchez, Montreal’s Andrés Romero, for instance.
Each is happy with his choice and will extol the virtues of a quieter existence outside his homeland.
And in perfect convergence, suburban Buenos Aires outfit Racing Club reportedly have come calling for Cardozo and Monterrey seem willing to play ball. If an opportunistic MLS club intervenes – with a good word from its resident happy Argie – the Mendoza native could be had.
5. Cherry-pick the rest of the roster. That to-the-end-of-the-bench depth is what most pundits say has been the demise of so many MLS clubs when they come up against the Rayados. So chip away there.
Make a play for some other part-timers and see what you come up with: Omar Arellano, Leobardo López, Ricardo Osorio and Héctor Morales, to name a few, might be willing to listen.
And while you’re at it, definitely grab young American prospect Alonso Hernandez – you know, for the ultimate symbolic value.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday. Additional reporting by Tom Marshall.