Monterrey head coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is sent off the field after being ejected in the second half against the Houston Dynamo.
Victor Manuel Vucetich is arguably the most successful manager in the history of CF Monterrey, while Humberto Suazo and Walter Ayovi are arguably two of the greatest foreign players in the history of the Mexican Primera. During the time the three have been together with Monterrey, they have won three major titles: The 2009 Apertura, 2010 Apertura, and 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League. Monterrey was also champion of the 2010 Interliga and victims of the "Superlider Curse" in the Clausura 2010, as they were upset by eighth seeded Pachuca.
This tournament has not been so kind to Monterrey. For two straight summers, their best players have been sucked away from the team to play in the 2010 World Cup, 2011 Gold Cup and 2011 Copa America. This, in addition to their run to a continental championship last spring, has worn down a once dominant team. They look tired, their veteran players look old, and they've been without an injured Aldo de Nigris all season.
Monterrey goes into the Clasico Regiomontano against UANL Tigres sitting in eighth place, the final Liguilla spot. They're just seven points off the bottom of the table in the closest tournament in recent memory. Club America, the team that absolutely embarrassed them on their own ground in Jornada 13, is just three points behind their Liguilla place, despite the fact that they had an embarrassing start to the season resulting in the firing of their manager. This is not the Monterrey of the last three years.
Humberto Suazo is now on the wrong side of 30. He's now at the age where his time to explore other options is running out. At the conclusion of this season, he could take one last shot at a career in Europe or cash in on his remaining notoriety in the way of a Designated Player contract in Major League Soccer. Both options are sure to disappear shortly.
He's not the only Rayados star on the wrong side of 30. Luis Ernesto Perez, Walter Ayovi and Ricardo Osorio are now in their 30s as well. New signing Cesar Delgado has been fantastic when he's played, but he is also a short-term solution at 30 years old. Aldo de Nigris is 28, while role player Sergio Santana is 32. This feels like the winding down of a mini-dynasty.
Meanwhile, UANL Tigres are the best they've been in years. They're also made up of a number of aging pieces, but the true anchors of the side are youngsters. 24-year-old Danilinho is the centerpiece of the team, accented by veterans. The opposite is true in Monterrey, where Jesus Zavala and Hiram Mier are the accents, not the stars. It's Perez, Ayovi and Suazo who are irreplaceable, not the youngsters.
It seems hyperbolic to say that one game, especially a regular season game three weeks before the end of a season, can alter the course of a team significantly. However, this could be the case for Monterrey, especially in Mexico where owners are unbelievably short-minded. Should Monterrey lose their local derby and fail to qualify for Liguilla, Vucetich could find himself out of a job. Suazo and others could find themselves wondering what opportunities exist for them elsewhere.
But, what if a minor miracle happens? Emphasis on the word minor due to the quality of Monterrey's side, but still, a minor miracle. What if they win at Estadio Universitario? What if that propels them comfortably into Liguilla, in which they put on a good showing? Perhaps they finish between fourth and sixth place, qualifying for Copa Libertadores.
Well, that would be exactly the kind of thing that would not only keep Vucetich in a job, but keep the veteran stars around. Suddenly, the likes of Suazo, Perez and Ayovi would have something new to fight for and a renewed sense of optimism.
I'm no Monterrey supporter, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't rooting for them to win on Saturday.