MONTERREY, Mexico — "The city is really ... tense," a musician named Victor Jose says Saturday.
"Because of the potential of violence?" I ask.
"No!" he says with a laugh. "Because we know that the fans of whichever team wins won't let us hear the end of it until the next time there's a Final Regia."
This is the first final between Tigres and Monterrey in the 43 years the rivals have been playing, and no one can stand the thought of being at the wrong end of the trash talk for the next 43 years. That's how the rivalry goes in Nuevo Leon, the state that houses both of Liga MX finalists. After a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the first leg, tensions are high ahead of Sunday's decider not because of the chance of clashes but rather the potential of embarrassment.
Unlike other derbies where your location within the city or membership in a social class determines your loyalties, most people here just ... decide. Victor Jose supports Monterrey, Los Rayados, because his friends in school did, but his father and girlfriend are die-hard Tigres fans. Some choose their loyalties based on their connection to city's universities - Tigres are affiliated with UANL while Rayados played for years on the Monterrey Institute of Technology's campus before moving to Estadio BBVA Bancomer. While some families are all in on one side or the other, others are split like Victor Jose's.
Many businesses here also are struggling to pick a side, with some displaying flags for both teams at the risk of alienating one group of supporters or the other. Even Oxxo, the convenience store chain that shares a parent company with Rayados, has Andre-Pierre Gignac on banners and Tigres merchandise with the company's logo available for purchase at many locations.
Once fans have decided, they go all out. Flags have been the chosen method of expression, most affixed to windows though several fans in central Monterrey were manually waving them from their back seats while stuck in gridlock on Saturday. Some of those wearing yellow had been up early to attend Tigres' final training session before Sunday night's big game. More than 30,000 fans showed up to the Estadio Universatario, leading to scenes that forward Andre-Pierre Gignac said he'd never seen the likes of before.
Más de 30 mil incomparables en el entrenamiento de hoy !! Nunca viví esta experiencia !! Gracias y vamos con todo por este título ! Lo merecemos #equipo #aficion #siemprejuntos 💛💙👊🏻💪🏻🙏🏻🇲🇽🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/71ud2C61Tl — Gignac Andre-pierre (@10APG) December 9, 2017
Rayados fans are more concerned about their showing in the stadium Sunday night but more than a thousand went to Monterrey training ground El Barrial to show their support as well, while others climbed a wall to provide a 'serenata', a singing send-off for the players to ponder as they head off to sleep. It's a tradition generally reserved for soccer teams or girlfriends, meant to show the love one has for the other party.
🎥 ¡Impresionante! Así manifiesta su apoyo la afición de @Rayados a su equipo. Viajaron a "El Barrial" , lugar de entrenamiento del equipo para alentarlos de cara la vuelta de la #FinalRegia pic.twitter.com/CaEJcMi4ui — Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) December 9, 2017
Each team has a well-established style that suits its personnel, and either manager is likely to still be held in high regard if they come out on the losing end . Both Tuca Ferretti and Antonio Mohamed have big decisions to make with changes required thank to red cards in the first legs. Center back Hugo Ayala is missing from Tigres' back line while left back Leonel Vangioni misses out for Rayados. There are direct replacements available to each coach in the form of Francisco Meza for Tigres and Luis Fuentes for Monterrey.
The managers will be tempted to make bigger changes, though, especially in Mohamed's case as Fuentes has yet to play a minute of the Liguilla. Tossing him in to start the a final as even as this one will be is a huge risk. It's one Mohamed may have to take. For Ferretti, his team's lack of finishing in the first leg looms large. Tigres have a nasty reputation for falling short in the first leg of finals and despite the pragmatic 63-year-old saying he's not concerned about the same happening this time around he's running a real risk if he doesn't get his tactics just right Sunday. No matter the decisions the managers make, the choices will be analyzed for years to come by fans here.
One team will lift the trophy Sunday, and no matter which club comes out victorious the celebration will head to the Macroplaza. The parade, which in Mexico often takes place a few hours after the game, won't be until Monday because of security concerns (which do exist despite the friendly nature of the Clasico). The fans will flock to the central strip even if the players aren't present. There, in front of the state capitol building, the winning team's fans will be throwing the party of a lifetime while the other half of the city will settle in for a lifetime of jokes at their team's expense.