How soccer-loving Monterrey landed two teams in the Liga MX final

Aviles Hurtado Monterrey

They'll be meetings 114 and 115 in history, but numbers one and two in importance. Monterrey and Tigres have met more than 100 times since first coming together in 1974, but the matches Thursday and Sunday will mark the first time the crosstown rivals have met with the Liga MX title at stake.

It's no coincidence the teams from Mexico's northern business hub have become the country's best over the past several seasons. Both clubs are backed by deep-pocketed ownership groups. Tigres changed the paradigm for Liga MX clubs when they brought in French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac in 2015 and continued signing internationals from European clubs with the additions of Eduardo Vargas and Enner Valencia. Monterrey's approach has been a bit more pragmatic, with Aviles Hurtado's summer arrival from fellow Mexican team Club Tijuana standing out as the key signing for Rayados and the emergence of homegrown central midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez also helping to take the club to new heights.

Lucas Zelarayan Tigres Jonathan Gonzalez MonterreyJulio Cesar Aguilar

Still, the rivalry between the two insured that after Tigres clinched their fourth league title in the 2015 Apertura and then moved past Monterrey's four league championships with their 2016 title win, that beverage and retail giant FEMSA would loosen the purse strings for Antonio Mohamed - and stand by the manager after the team fell short of glory in the 2015 Clausura final and was prematurely bounced from the playoffs by Tigres in this year's Clausura.

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Both teams aggressively maneuvering for trophies has brought unprecedented attention to a city that loves the sport but has stolen the national spotlight from Mexico CIty or Guadalajara only on occasion. Despite the fact that the country's press often focuses on what Club America or Chivas (or Cruz Azul or Pumas) are doing, the relative newcomers in Monterrey have fostered an atmosphere that has produced a city where it seems like everyone is a fan of one team or the other. That often captures outsiders' attention as much as the cabrita or carne asada cooking in restaurants and family gatherings around town.

Andre-Pierre Gignac Tigres

"I think Monterrey is the stadium where the football stirs the most (in Mexico)," El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osrio told ESPN Mexico  in the spring. "The memory I have is of the last Clasico, and it's spectacular."

While it may not match up to other famous footballing cities like Manchester or Rosario, the teams' recent resurgence has led to even more football fever in the city. So too has Monterrey opening a beautiful new stadium - a move that has prompted Tigres to consider leaving or upgrading the Estadio Universitario. There's very much a 'keeping up with the Joneses' feel to the rivalry and this final is not only giving head-to-head bragging rights but also either giving Tigres a two-title lead all-time or bringing the teams level will be a significant undertone to this series.

While this is the first official final the teams are meeting in, the clubs actually met once before with silverware on the line. They squared off in the 2006 Interliga final. Remember Interliga? It was like Superliga, but less super and with no MLS teams. That game was played in Carson, California. It went to extra time when a deflected goal from Jaime "Jimmy" Lozano gave Tuca Ferretti's side the title.

While the Interliga resulted in Tigres moving on to the Copa Libertadore at the expense of their rival, that game has faded into obscurity. It is a footnote to the storied rival between teams from La Sultana del Norte. The team that wins this time around will have a chapter heading and a place in the rivalry's history as the first ever to lift the trophy while their rival looks on.