Jesus Zavala

CCL: Monterrey a team ripe for the taking?

MONTERREY, Mexico — While Real Salt Lake seem to be hitting an early stride with a dominant 6-1-1 record across all competitions in 2011, Mexican champions Monterrey are stumbling into this CONCACAF Champions League final first leg on Wednesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer and TeleFutura).

Los Rayados, as the team is nicknamed, have played five matches during the month of April but they have mustered only four ties and a loss between league play and CCL play.

"We can’t be satisfied until we’re back in the top form that we’re used to,” defender William Paredes told Mexican daily El Norte. “We have to be very calm because we know there is very little patience in the soccer world and all that matters are results.”

Monterrey only made it through to the CONCACAF Champions League finals on a late Humberto Suazo penalty kick against Cruz Azul. And their place in the current Mexican league playoffs – the liguilla – is hanging by a thread with only two regular-season matches remaining. They currently occupy the eighth and final spot.

While RSL ensured they had two straight weekends off from MLS regular-season matches, Monterrey played to a 1-1 home tie against Monarcas Morelia last Saturday after conceding a gut-wrenching stoppage-time penalty kick.

That league result further dialed up the pressure on manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich (at right) and his squad ahead of the match against RSL. Monterrey’s season is essentially being decided over the next 10 days.

“No, we’re not calm because the team has not hit its stride,” Paraguayan midfielder Osvaldo Martínez told Reforma. “Things are not turning out the way we want them to.”

The run of form has been so poor that Monterrey’s own fans turned against them during last Saturday. The club’s president has had to even make an appeal to the fan base on Sunday to come out and support their team in the CCL final.

“The fans are within their rights [to protest],” Martínez said. “After two league titles, they are used to good results. We’re going through a very critical period and we all recognize it. Fans need to be calm about it. We’ve spoken among ourselves and the team officials have spoken to us. Whoever plays [on Wednesday], we have to give 100 percent and show that this team is alive.”

With the mission of preparing for the match against RSL, Monterrey trained on Sunday and Monday morning at their El Barrial complex in Santiago, Nuevo León.

Vucetich has alternated his lineups throughout the current Mexican league season in an attempt to keep his squad fresh as it has juggled several midweek fixtures.

Monterrey currently find themselves in the middle of a stretch of five matches in 14 days. Following the Champions League final first leg on Wednesday, the Rayados host Puebla in a critical league match on Saturday, also at the Estadio Tecnológico.

“The playoffs are important,” veteran Mexican national-team fullback Ricardo Osorio told “But our mission is to be [CONCACAF] champions and after that we’ll look ahead and see what happens.

“We’re thinking about the Champions League and we’re not thinking about the league. We’re focused on the final. … We want to get a good result here to be able to go [to Salt Lake City] calm.”

The Monterrey players say they are not favorites heading into the series against Real Salt Lake, but they did say they plan to show they are better.

Those plans hinge on their Chilean star, Suazo (at right), who was recently injured but played 72 minutes on Saturday against Morelia.

“We need him to get back to his level [of play] and he knows it,” said Monterrey president Jorge Urdiales. “He’ll get there. We know that he’s a player who can decide the final for us and he’s focused. He wants to be in the Club World Cup.”

Monterrey are a tired club and out of sorts. Their superstar is far removed from his best form. They are under pressure and internal emergency meetings involving club officials are never a good sign. Their league season is slipping from their grasp and they are questioning themselves.

In short, it’s all shaping up favorably for RSL. That is, unless the adversity stirs the Mexican giants back to their former selves.