Tom Marshall: Tigres vs. Monterrey is Mexico’s best clasico

Right now, no local derby in Mexico compares to when the two big sides from Nueva Leon come together.
If you want a ticket for this Saturday’s Clasico Regio at the Estadio Universitario and don’t already have one, forget about it, unless you have a decent amount of spare cash floating around. They are going for over $120 U.S. on internet websites and fewer than 300 were put on general sale due to the predictable demand from season ticket holders.

And if you can’t afford it, you won’t even be able to attend Friday’s training sessions at one of the two clubs, which can attract over 10,000 people before a big game, because both are set to be behind closed doors as the clubs prepare for an occasion that is unrivaled in Mexican soccer.

It’s been a long time since a Chivas versus America game truly generated such a buzz, the Clasico Tapatio pales in comparison and some America fans don’t even admit their game against Pumas is even a clasico.

The passion the Clasico Regio game brings out is perplexing when you consider that the proximity to the US border meant baseball for a long time rivaled soccer as the most popular sport in the Nuevo Leon capital. Both the Estadio Universitario and the Estadio Tecnologico are practically sold out before the season starts and both teams have a large road following that has made waves in the Mexican game and beyond.

Put simply, the northern Mexican city – known as the corporate capital of the country before drug-related violence took its toll – is awash with football fever, like few places on the American continent and the derby between Tigres and Monterrey has fast become established as the most intense game in the Liga MX calendar.

The game pits two sides with plenty of money behind them, but Monterrey - owned by the FEMSA corporataion and playing their games in the exclusive Tec de Monterrey complex -  are usually more associated with the wealthier people in the city, whereas Tigres - representing the state-funded UANL university - more in line with the working class.

However, that traditional divide is much blurrier these days, with Tigres funded by the huge CEMEX company and fans split more along family or neighborhood lines.   

But what has been fueling the rivalry to new levels in recent years has been the quality both teams possess. Monterrey has reached three Liga MX finals since 2009 and bagged two CONCACAF Champions League titles in the same period, while Tigres captured in Apertura 2011 and have been challenging at the top ever since after years in the wilderness.

In today’s squads, Monterrey has in Humberto Suazo arguably the best player in the Liga MX, while Lucas Lobos makes an equally good argument. But they are far from the only quality players. Tigres can claim Mexico national teamers like Carlos Salcido, Jorge Torres Nilo, Israel Jimenez, Hugo Ayala (who misses the game through injury); US international Jose “Gringo” Torres, as well as an in-form and lethal Argentine Emanuel “Tito” Villa.

For Monterrey, Aldo de Nigris, Jesus Zavala, Severo Meza, Jonathan Orozco, Hiram Mier, and Ricardo Osorio have played for El Tri, while it also boasts internationals such as Argentina’s Jose Maria Basanta and Ecuador’s Walter Ayovi, among others.

Saturday’s 97th edition of the Clasico Regiomontano will certainly not lack quality, but there is also plenty of relevance regarding this season’s standings.

Tigres are looking to remain in first place in the Liga MX and strike what could be a decisive blow to ninth-placed Monterrey’s playoff chances. Nothing would make the Tigres faithful happier, although it has been a long six years since the UANL team recorded a home victory against its city neighbors.

The hype and needle surrounding the game started weeks ago and will build to a crescendo ahead of kick off.

Examples of the banter surrounding previous editions have included a former Monterrey president suggesting that Tigres fans should support the Rayados after they were relegated in 1996 because, “all tigers have stripes (“Rayados” means “striped” in English).” To rub it in, it was a 2-1 loss against Monterrey that sealed Tigres’ fate.

In 2008, then Monterrey coach Ricardo La Volpe said he would rather go shopping in Laredo, Texas than watch a Tigres game, which backfired after UANL went to the Tec right after and recorded a 4-1 victory.

“He should go,” said Tigres midfielder Lucas Ayala after the game. “But he should take a video of the game to watch on the way.”

It’s a game old and new fans of Mexican soccer should not miss, even if it doesn’t get the nationwide and international attention it deserves.