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Eastern Conference Championship

Monterrey execute game plan to perfection

SANDY, Utah – Basking in the glow of the 3-2 aggregate-goal victory over Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League final, Rayados Monterrey say they knew all along they were capable of being the first team to win at Rio Tinto Stadium in nearly two years.

“We knew the difference was only a goal,” Monterrey manager Victory Manuel Vucetich said after the 1-0 second leg win. “We looked at the last game and we realized we could win. Soccer is not about where you’re playing. It’s soccer … Any of the two teams could have won it. But luck smiled on us today.”

There was no luck, however, on the goal scored by Humberto Suazo during first-half stoppage time. It was pure class. The Chilean combined with his forward partner on the night, Sergio Santana, to penetrate the RSL back line with a few give-and-go passes that left him with a clear opportunity.

“It was a goal based on wall passes [give-and-go's] and a lot short movements,” Vucetich said. “This was the way we had to overcome the [RSL] defense. Fortunately the opportunity came up and they were able to coordinate it.

“Great players know where they need to be and in the case of 'Chupete' [Suazo], he followed the play and knew how to capitalize. He has the patience and this calm on the ball that great players have.”

Santana, usually employed in midfield, said that Wednesday night was one of the few instances in which he has played alongside Suazo at striker. It was hard to tell by the way they expertly combined on the goal.  

“In these type of games you break through the blockade that they [RSL] put up with those wall passes,” said Santana, who left the game early with a knee injury. “We knew that we were going to win. We couldn’t lose because this is a team of winners. Everyone has been a champion on this team and we know what it takes in these types of games."

The win came under difficult circumstances for Monterrey, who had been winless in seven straight matches entering Wednesday night's match. They were missing their captain, Luis Ernesto Pérez as well as their top goal scorer in league play, Antonio de Nigris. Monterrey even had to call up an 18-year-old player from one of their youth teams to make up the numbers given how injuries had decimated the squad.

The match did not prove a sparkling display by Monterrey but they did just enough to see off Real Salt Lake. Vucetich, who had criticized RSL of “dirtying” the first leg in Monterrey, ironically did his own “dirtying” on Wednesday night, inserting two more defenders in the final stages of the game to seal the 1-0 result.

“The more you suffer, the more you enjoy it,” said former MLS player Duilio Davino, who was one of the Monterrey defenders brought on late. “We couldn’t win at home even though we deserved it and we had to come and win here.”

Monterrey, which had been criticized for not giving credit to RSL for the match the MLS team played in Mexico, had a parting compliment for their rivals in the series.

“I see a growth in both Real Salt Lake’s game and MLS,” Vucetich said. “We have to be very careful in Mexican soccer and we have to continue to improve a lot of things ourselves.

“But praise to Real Salt Lake. They’re a great team and there’s a reason they were undefeated for 37 games … They have players of quality who know how to play very well. It’s a team very mentally prepared for high level competition. And I’m glad to have come to know this team.”

For the defending Mexican league champions, it’s another title for what media south of the border is labeling as the greatest team in the history of the club. The victory also ensured that Vucetich is a perfect 11-0-0 in finals, including five Mexican league titles and one InterLiga championship won on American soil.

However, the Monterrey manager recognized the fact that his squad need to continue to get results. And another big test is right around the corner. Monterrey face another big match in three days when they travel to face Chivas Guadalajara in a must-win Mexican league regular season finale. Only a win guarantees them a spot in the Mexican league playoffs.

“Today there are no celebrations,” Vucetich said. “We have to keep moving forward. There is no time to celebrate as you normally would celebrate a championship. The competition continues.”