For the fourth time in five years, the CONCACAF Champions League final could become an all-Mexican affair.
Monterrey and Santos Laguna both staked one-goal away wins, with the ties headed back to Mexico for the return legs next week. The LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders FC face difficult odds to become only the second MLS team to reach the CCL final, after Real Salt Lake lost the 2011 edition.
On Tuesday, Santos beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 in CenturyLink Field. Former Sounder Herculez Gomez scored the game's only goal.
"Obviously it's a home game so you don't want to lose your home game," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said.
Last season the two teams met at the quarterfinal stage. Santos won the second leg 6-1 in Torreón to advance 7-3 on aggregate.
On Wednesday, Monterrey scored twice in the final 10 minutes to peg a 2-1 win on the Galaxy in the Home Depot Center. Aldo de Nigris scored the winner and created the equalizer with a header than eventually fell to striker partner Humberto Suazo.
"A little bit more experience and a little bit more quality and we win this game by a couple goals," LA coach and GM Bruce Arena said. "It's experience and concentration. Some of our players ran themselves out of their positions over the last 15 minutes. It hurt us."
Los Angeles has won the last two MLS Cups, which require navigating knockout competition in the form of the MLS playoffs. That its coach cited a lack of "experience" in his squad hints at the increased stakes in the region's Champions League.
Monterrey, meanwhile, chases a third consecutive CCL crown.
"It's a motivation to try to achieve something that has only been achieved by one other team," Rayados coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich said in Spanish.
Mexican side Cruz Azul won a previous incarnation of the tournament three times in a row, from 1969-71.
Despite continued Mexican dominance in the Champions League, Vucetich says the gap between Liga MX and MLS is no longer as expansive.
"They are certainly worthy rivals," Vucetich said. "That distance has shrunk."
Santos lost in the final last season and will want revenge against Monterrey in 2013. Of course, with the semifinals only halfway through, both MLS teams cling to hope of progressing.
"So we just now have to go down there and play pretty much a perfect game," Schmid said. "That's not impossible. It's difficult, but it's not impossible."
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