Ready for the Clasico?
No, not that one.
While many media outlets in Mexico have been getting ready for next week's double punch of Clasico Nacional matches between America and Tigres, there's been a surprising pall over Saturday's match between Monterrey and Tigres. The Clasico Regiomontano, pitting Liga MX's No. 1 vs. No. 2, hasn't been the talk of the town for the majority of TV channels and newspapers, most of which are based in the capital, Mexico City.
Supporters in the north are paying attention, though. Monterrey is Mexico's most football-centric city, with former El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio among those who cited it as the soccer capital of the country. There is no doubt the BBVA Bancomer Stadium will be full, and fans who do tune in are going to get a great match.
Between them, the two rivals from La Sultana de la Norte have lost a single match with Rayados putting an undefeated record on the line against first-place Tigres. The lack of coverage for the top teams in the league going head to head - just over a year after they played each other in a final - has been strange and hasn't gone unnoticed by Mexican soccer royalty.
"A lot of media outlets underrate it and don’t realize that Tigres and Rayados lately have done things really well. The proof is in the numbers. They’re always competing, fighting for titles," El Tri's all-time leading cap-winner and former Tigres defender Claudio Suarez told Goal. "Yeah, it’s local but it’s transcended that just with the quality of the players. If you want to see a good game, I think this is going to be among the best matches of the season with the quality of the players and how the teams are coming into it."
Suarez, who will provide analysis for Fox Deportes' broadcast of the match in the U.S., would know the passion and vibe around the game and other rivalry clashes in Mexico. In addition to having played in the Clasio Regio with Tigres, he also played with Pumas in Clasico Capitalino matches and with Chivas in both the Clasico Nacional and Clasico Tapitio.
"There’s a lot of passion in these types of matches. In those games, you don’t want to lose because you know that the importance goes behind three points," he said. "The fans want you to win this game, to not lose it and a lot of times they’re waiting the whole season for it.
"In Monterrey, honestly, for me, they’re among the best fans there are in Mexico because they live with a lot of passion, they’re always talking about football and they wait for matches with a lot of excitement. The important thing is that both teams, for me, are among the most important in Mexico for the squads they’ve put together and the money they’ve invested."
Those investments have impressed so far. This offseason, Tigres signed Mexico international center back Carlos Salcedo while Rayados brought in his international teammate Miguel Layun and Argentina international Maxi Meza. With each team also fighting for the Concacaf Champions League, and both securing midweek victories over MLS competition, the squads are looking deeper than ever. That's saying something when you look at the players already on the roster.
While those star names stand out, both teams are getting big contributions from less-famous players. Rayados used two goals from Dorlan Pabon to sink Chivas last weekend and he was back at it again with a golazo in the midweek victory over Atlanta United.
"That’s what happens. When you have stars that are so important and have a lot of talent, they figure out the game for you. Right now, it’s Dorlan Pabon but there are times when it’s Funes Mori, Maxi Meza coming in, Aviles Hurtado," Suarez said. "Really, going forward, Monterrey has players who make things really tough and are really talented. Tigres have the same," Suarez said.
There may be an X-factor for Tigres, with Suarez's former coach Tuca Ferretti leading Tigres and Monterrey in just its second tournament under Diego Alonson. "They have (Tuca's) style of play really clear in their minds. I think that a bit of an advantage over Monterrey because Diego Alonso is still trying to implement his philosophy of how to play, although little by little the players are getting it. For me, it should be a spectacular game. Hopefully it is, because sometimes the Clasicos can be tight and end up 0-0!" Suarez said with a laugh.
The last two Clasicos have ended in draws, with the most recent scoreless and the previous a 2-2 stalemate. Before that, it was the thrilling final of December 2017, the first final between the two teams and a matchup that paralyzed the city. The stakes aren't as high this time, but in Mexico's third-largest metro area everyone will be watching.