Monterrey reign among regional elite
Further confirming their dominance over the last decade, Monterrey finished atop the CONCACAF elite for the second season running. In retaining their CONCACAF Champions League crown, Los Rayados have again confirmed their place at the FIFA Club World Cup and will be looking to better their fifth-place finish last time out at Japan 2012 in December. However, until then, Monterrey will surely be relishing yet another trophy added to their cabinet.
While Albiazules may have beat out challengers Santos Laguna to the regional title, one thing held true this Champions League season: Mexican clubs boast a proud place among the regional cream. Monterrey were joined by fellow Mexican sides Pumas UNAM and Santos Laguna in the semi-finals, while MLS club Toronto FC rounded out the last-four line-up. FIFA.com reviews all these details and more as the fourth edition of the CONCACAF Champions League makes its way into the record books.
Since adopting its current format just four years ago, Monterrey not only extended the trend of just Mexican teams winning the competition, but became the first side to triumph twice, not to mention in succession. Los Rayados have won three Mexican league titles within the last nine years, and under the guidance of arguably the most-successful coach in Mexico right now - Victor Manuel Vucetich, remained in high-flying form this season.
In the early phases of the tournament, a second regional championship seemed lofty ambition for a Monterrey side suffering on the domestic front. However, in the final round of the group stage, the defending champions ignited hopes when they beat Seattle Sounders 2-1 to confirm their place at the summit of Group D on 12 points. And after a four-month break from the regional competition, Monterrey were right back to winning ways in the quarter-finals. La Pandilla beat Morelia by convincing margin, before setting up a final meeting against Santos Laguna with a 4-1 aggregate win over Pumas. Their success in the semi-finals also coincided with a rise in form in the Mexican Clausura, which has since seen them climb to second place ahead of the championship play-offs.
In the final, Monterrey clinched a 2-0 first-leg advantage over Santos Laguna thanks to two Humberto Suazo goals. Santos had made strong case for overturning deficits earlier in the competition, however, a 2-1 victory in the second leg still wasn’t enough to bring glory to Torreon as Los Rayados duly celebrated their title triumph.
After finishing atop the most tightly-contested group, Los Angeles Galaxy sputtered out of the competition against shock semi-finalists and fellow MLS side Toronto FC. The group phase went down to the wire this season, and Galaxy narrowly finished first in their Group A pool to ensure their progression into the last eight. However, in winning the 2011 MLS Cup, expectations weighed heavily on Galaxy as they failed to impress against their Canadian counterparts in the quarter-finals.
With the Major League Soccer season having just gotten underway, Galaxy seemed in shaky form despite having unparalleled star power in the likes of Irish international Robbie Keane and David Beckham. In fact, Toronto goalkeeper Milos Kocic kept Keane at bay on multiple occasions to help the Canadians to a thrilling 2-1 win at the Home Depot Center after a respectable 2-2 draw at BMO Field in the first leg. While Galaxy were left to rue their misses, Toronto FC supporters had plenty to cheer about as they became the first Canada-based club to appear in the semi-finals of the regional showpiece. However, their celebrations were short-lived, with a Herculez Gomez-inspired Santos stopping them dead in their tracks en route to the final.
After helping Monterrey to their first CONCACAF Champions League title in its current format just last season over MLS side Real Salt Lake, Chilean international Humberto Suazo has gone on to prove a vital cog in Los Rayados attacking machine. Although Chupete failed to appear in the second leg of the final against Santos through suspension, his two-goal haul in the first put the men in blue and white well on their way to victory. In fact, it raised his personal tally up to a tournament-high seven goals, earning him Golden Boot honours via tie-breaker over Santos’ Oribe Peralta. The achievement marks the first time a non-Mexican player has finished the competition as top scorer.
12 – The number of finals contested and won by Victor Manuel Vucetich as manager of seven different Mexican clubs, five of which have come while coaching at Monterrey.
What they said
"Without a doubt, it's a blessing. I think that we are guided by God's hand. The key is to always work hard and to put together teams with a strong mentality and a constant desire to improve. But I think the credit is for the players. They are the ones who do the work on the field, the ones who make the sacrifices and show their skills. I think we put our grain of sand to get the best out of them, but after that, they do all the work.” Monterrey manager Victor Manuel Vucetich
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