To be the best, you have to beat the best. It's an easy sports cliché and it very much applies in the case of the LA Galaxy's ambitions as they prepare to take on Liga MX outfit Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals (Weds., 10 pm ET, Fox Soccer, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Los Rayados are the two-time defending CCL champions and are eyeing a third consecutive berth in the FIFA Club World Cup, despite the fact many believed their magical run under manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich, the man they call King Midas, had ended just a few weeks ago.
Despite flattening the competition in CCL group play – four shutout wins and a 15-0 goal differential – and earning third place at the Club World Cup to close out 2012, Monterrey stumbled to start the 2013 Mexican Clausura season with four losses in their first seven league matches.
The questions were insistent: Had Monterrey finally become complacent? Was it time for an overhaul? Was talismanic attacker Humberto "Chupete" Suazo committed to the cause any more?
And here was Monterrey's response: three wins in the next five matches and a current five-match undefeated streak in all competitions, including the CCL quarterfinal series against Guatemalans Xelajú. Forward Aldo de Nigris is up to six league goals and Suazo has now dished eight assists.
This is nothing new. The critics have doubted Monterrey in the past, but time and again they show they are winners.
Los Rayados won't have regular goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco (hamstring injury) or attacker Omar Arellano (cup-tied with Chivas Guadalajara) in LA, but their veteran is squad is deep and can more than make up for the absences.
"Monterrey has always found a way to emerge in these tough moments and games and we hope that's the way it is and that we play some good soccer which is what matters most to us," fullback Ricardo Osorio told the media before departing to LA. "In the beginning [of the season] things weren't falling for us, but now they are and we have to continue this way."
Monterrey currently sit in the eighth and final Liguilla (playoff) position in the Liga MX, tied with four other teams on 17 points (5-5-2). And so one of the greatest runs in Mexican soccer history continues: The Mexican league playoffs and the Champions League final are in Monterrey's sights.
"It's a game in which we have to go chase the result there," said Monterrey center back Hiram Mier, "and bring an advantage to Monterrey and look to reach another final."
Probable Monterrey Lineup (4-4-2): Juan Ibarra -- Ricardo Osorio, Hiram Mier, José María Basanta, Darvin Chávez -- Neri Cardozo, Walter Ayoví, Jesús Zavala, Severo Meza -- Humberto Suazo, Aldo de Nigris