On an evening on which Monterrey had plenty to lose, though it might not have seemed like it, the Rayados instead cruised to an easy CONCACAF Champions League victory over visiting Municipal.
It shouldn’t have been as simple as this, with the Guatemalan side at full strength visiting a Monterrey team depleted by injuries and with attention set on Liga MX and the Club World Cup.
Instead, what Tuesday night’s result in the CONCACAF Champions League showed was that the gulf between Mexico’s best -- in this case, and specifically, Monterrey -- and the rest of the region continues to be substantial.
Monterrey had to get it done with no Jesus Zavala, no Humberto Suazo, and no Aldo Di Nigris. But the lack of firepower up front proved to be simply an opportunity for other talent, as Dario Carreño and particularly Jesús Manuel Corona stood out in the attack for Rayados.
The 19-year-old Corona’s electric performance up front should be particularly encouraging for La Pandilla, since the prolonged absence of Suazo -- expected to be out five to six weeks -- means that Monterrey will need some options at forward to stay in a good league position.
Carreño and Corona, a pair of players who each have featured for just over 90 minutes of soccer thus far in the Apertura 2012, look like able fill-ins, both now and in the likely chance that Suazo bails on Monterrey when his contract expires next year.
The key to success here is depth. Despite the significant injuries, Monterrey has quality in reserve superior to that of not only its CONCACAF foes, but most other teams competing in Liga MX as well.
As the two-time defending regional champion has proved over the last two years, Monterrey is a team built for multiple tournaments. Injuries could have tested that depth to the breaking point in this year’s Champions League, but the walkover versus Municipal resolved any worry of that inconvenience coming to pass.
Instead, Monterrey advances and has nothing to play for next month in the scheduled group closer against Chorrillo. The Rayados can send the kids on the long trip to Panama if they choose -- which is great for everyone at the club, because they certainly have some young talent that doesn’t always get a chance to shine.
But even had Monterrey not sealed its third straight quarterfinals berth in the Champions League on Tuesday night, now would still be the time for players like Corona, a budding Mexican star at the U-20 level as well, to step up and take advantage of the chances.
With a big game awaiting on Friday in Liga MX play versus fourth-place Leon, the Rayados look capable of at least treading water for the next few weeks as certain replacements find their feet at the top level.
They’ll miss the skill and range of Zavala in the midfield, but they could miss Suazo up front even more, particularly if he can’t regain full fitness before the Club World Cup in mid-December.
Luckily for Monterrey and Mexican soccer in general, the time table on Suazo looks decent in that regard, maintaining the hopes for the regional champs of being close to a full team by the time a scheduled clash with the Asian Cup champion in Japan rolls around. That would be followed by a potential date with UEFA Champions League holder Chelsea, should Monterrey advance to the semis.
Until then, with their chances of winning a third straight CONCACAF Champions League firmly intact, there’s nothing more for Rayados to play for on the international level. That’s just as well, because even if Monterrey is a team built for multiple tournaments, at this point additional competitions would stretch even their impressive depth.
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