MONTERREY, Mexico – Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman called it “strange.” Many watching on TV back in the USA were likely thinking the same thing.
Rarely do you see a team make two substitutions as early as Monterrey did after they scored the opening goal of the CONCACAF Champions League final first leg on Wednesday night.
Manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich took off both captain Luis Ernesto Pérez and goal-scorer Aldo de Nigris almost immediately following the de Nigris goal in the 18th minute. It made for odd timing to burn two of the three subs available to him.
“Really odd decision,” RSL manager Jason Kreis said. “I don’t know what was going on, whether the players they took off were injured.”
Added Beckerman, “We didn’t know if it was just disrespect that they thought the game was done and that’s all they needed, or whether the guys were injured. I think the guys were injured. But it was strange.”
It turns out that both starters suffered muscle strains in their legs. The Monterrey club doctor, Pedro Luna, confirmed that de Nigris suffered a left hamstring strain while Pérez had a thigh strain.
“The substitutions were forced because of injuries,” Vucetich said after the match. “No change was made because of tactics.”
Even the home team’s third substitution, that of Sergio Santana in the second half, was a result of a hamstring strain. When asked about whether his players entered the match with the injuries, Vucetich said that if he knew they were injured, they would not have played the match.
The team doctor indicated it was still early to determine whether they would be available for next week’s CCL second leg. But he said it was a sure thing they’d miss this Saturday’s critical Mexican league match against Puebla.
Veteran left back Ricardo Osorio felt that the injury-induced changes hurt his team because they interrupted any sort of momentum they had generated with the early 1-0 lead.
“There was an adjustment period where it cost them to get into the rhythm of the game,” Osorio said of the replacements. “In the second half, with a little bit more rhythm, it was much better.”
The infirmary list, coupled with the suspensions of de Nigris and defensive midfielder Jesús Zavala for yellow-card accumulation, means that Monterrey could be severely short-handed come next week’s return leg at Rio Tinto Stadium. Vucetich indicated that forward Darío Carreño and midfielder Miguel Morales, who weren’t even on the bench, would be the natural fill-ins for the suspended players.
“There is no champion yet,” Vucetich said. “So the possibility is still up in the air. The difference is only a goal. I think that with a single goal, we can be champions. So the possibility [to become CONCACAF champs] is very real.”