MONTERREY, Mexico – Defending Mexican league champions Rayados de Monterrey are going to be literally running for their lives on Wednesday night in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against MLS side Real Salt Lake (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer and TeleFutura).
The two Monterrey players made available to speak to the press on Tuesday afternoon indicated in separate Q&A sessions that the key to getting a lead against RSL in the Estadio Tecnológico was to run, run and run some more. But will they have the legs to do it against a fresher opponent?
“It’s essential [Wednesday] that we not lose our attitude,” midfielder Osvaldo Martinez said. “We can’t stop running. We haven’t done enough to get the result in the last few games, and this will be a great opportunity to forget all that has happened and get after it to gain an important lead [in this series] ahead of the next game [in Utah].”
Rayados forward Sergio Santana (pictured above, right) offered a similar response when asked about the path to victory.
“A lot of movement,” Santana said. “And we need patience because it’s not going to be easy. [RSL] are a very organized team. We have to open up their defense. It’s going to be very difficult, but with a lot of movement, we can do it. And we have to be a little daring, too.”
Both players admitted to the fact that Monterrey has not played well as of late during the recent five-match stretch in which they have failed to register a single win across all competitions. The fact that Monterrey has been busy on two competitive fronts with very little rest in between matches has weighed heavily on the team. They have yet to qualify to the Mexican league playoffs with two matches to go.
“There have been a lot of lineup changes by the coach and that’s part of it,” Santana said in reference to manager Victor Manuel Vucetich’s attempt to keep his squad fresh. “Others say that it’s fatigue, but we can’t look for excuses.”
Given the rough patch they’re going through, the Monterrey players say they are prepared to just gut out a victory if they have to.
“The image that we’ve given off in the last games is not what we wanted,” said Martinez (pictured right). “But this is a final and we have to win it in any way possible. It doesn’t matter if we play well or ugly, we have to win.”
Santana and Martinez did not give any indication that they knew much about RSL except to merely point out the threat that Jason Kreis’ men pose on set pieces. But if Monterrey didn’t already know, they were reminded on multiple occasions by journalists about RSL’s 37-match unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium. They danced around all talk about the second leg.
Monterrey is clearly hanging their hat on a sold-out crowd – the word was 18,000 tickets of 28,000 available had been sold as of Tuesday morning – and the fact that they have experience playing in finals – they won two of the last three Mexican titles – play to their favor.
“We’re used to playing these types of elimination games,” Santana said. “We have a lot of desire to face another final and get to go to the Club World Cup championship.”