Can a hot start erase Liga MX final loss memory for Monterrey?

Ulises Ruiz
After a painful defeat in the Liga MX final had the club rattled for weeks, have Rayados moved on from December's defeat?

Aviles Hurtado stepped up against his former teammate. He looked him in the eye, started a slow, bouncy run-up and took his penalty. The ball bounced before it arrived to the six-yard box, going wide instead of troubling Club Tijuana goalkeeper Gibran Lajud. The kick looked more like one taken by a U-12 player learning to shoot from the spot rather than Liga MX's reigning Golden Boot winner.

For the second time in as many months, Hurtado had missed a penalty at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer.

Rayados were frustrated to settle for just a point with Tijuana two weeks ago, but that was nothing compared with the rock-bottom feeling they had in their chests in December when Hurtado's penalty miss played a key role in crosstown rival Tigres lifting the Liga MX title. It seemed clear that moment was still in the Colombian's mind.

How could it not be? Even actually raising a trophy on the same field where they'd just lost did little to lift the team's morale. Just more than a week after losing to Tigres in the second leg of the final, the team topped Pachuca in the Copa MX final. It felt ... still not satisfying.

"To me it didn't make up for anything. We wanted to win both titles. We lost in the final, the Clasico against Tigres and the only revenge is to meet them again," manager Antonio Mohamed told Argentina's La Nacion"We've got a thorn in our side about it.

"At the same time, we really enjoyed the campaign. We were the leaders of the tournament for a long time, the team with the most goals and the fewest allowed. Even so, it hurt a ton, a ton. For me, the most important thing is what's coming. I always tell the players, if you lose a ball, the most important is the one to come because if you stay there feeling sorry about it the train passes you. Life passes you."

El Turco got deep there at the end, but it's also the only option Monterrey has. The club and its players can keep moping about the loss in the Clasico Regio, or they can try to get back to the final - and hopefully for Rayados beat Tigres along the way.

They took the first step last weekend with a 2-1 win against Chivas and this week return home. The typical fortress of the Estadio BBVA Bancomer might not feel as imposing now that Tigres have twice beaten Rayados there in the Liguilla. That feeling only has intensified with the draw to Tijuana two weeks ago and a stalemate with Morelia before that.

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This weekend when Rayados welcome Leon they'll be looking for their first home league win of 2018. Leon also finds itself in its own head a bit, falling to Necaxa at home 4-0 in Jornada 4 and still waiting for its new signings to be fit. The matchup could be key for the teams to get into the right state of mind ahead of the push for the playoffs and the jockeying for positioning beginning.

Perhaps in an effort to refresh after last tournament's frustration, Mohamed has been using Arturo "Ponce" Gonzalez behind Rogelio Funes Mori and moving Carlos Sanchez to the bench. It's a shift from the 4-3-3 that got Rayados to the final and no further on two occasions. The Argentine manager may not stick with that formation, though Gonzalez worked well against Chivas' two defensive midfielders and could find space in the same formation.

Either way, a home win for Monterrey would signal a return to normalcy. Rayados know better than anyone in the league that simply running away with the regular season means nothing in the long run. Yet sitting atop the table can do wonders for the mentality. The pain of the final will linger, but with more victories in the Clausura life goes on for Rayados.

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