TOYOTA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 14: Jesus Zavala of Monterrey celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the FIFA Club World Cup 5th Place match between Club de Futbol Monterrey and Esperance Sportive de Tunis at Toyota Stadium on December 14, 2011 in Toyota, Japan. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
As the sun sets on northern Mexico Saturday night, the shadows of the Cerro de la Silla mountain will fall over Estadio Tecnologico. Monterrey’s stadium will be bustling in anticipation of that night’s local grudge match between the Rayados and the visiting UANL Tigres (10pm eastern, Univision Deportes). The spectacular peaks above the city of Monterrey won't be the only thing casting a shadow over the stadium, though. In terms of media attention and national interest, the match in Monterrey has been completely overshadowed by the national Clasico between Chivas and Club America which takes place the following day.
The blinding spotlight on Sunday's match in Guadalajara is not without reason. Chivas and America are a true national rivalry, pitting Mexico's two biggest cities and two biggest national fan bases against one another. But while its geographic reach may spread wider, when it comes to pure passion the national Clasico has nothing on the local rivalry in Monterrey.
Both football clubs in Monterrey proudly boast of having the most loyal supporters in the country. The city truly lives and breathes with the success of the two teams, and both stadiums are regularly packed to capacity -- even during the rare losing season. When it comes to the Monterrey vs. Tigres match itself, you will never find an empty seat in the house on game day.
This week Tigres midfielder Carlos Salcido confirmed what everyone in Monterrey already knows. Salcido stated that Tigres vs. Monterrey is the best match to experience live, as it has a more passionate atmosphere than even Chivas vs. America. If there's anyone who should know, it’s Salcido -- one of the few players who has featured prominently in both the national Clasico and Monterrey's Clasico Regiomontano.
This season, the stakes between the two clubs are even higher than normal. Unquestionably two of the top teams in the league (Tigres are currently in second, while Monterrey are 3 points back in fourth), both sides are looking to grab the top seed in the Liguilla playoffs. The quality of football for both clubs has also been exceptionally high in recent weeks. Tigres has won four of their last five matches, while Monterrey has won three of their last four in league play (while also advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League final).
The clubs are also on more level historic footing than ever. Monterrey were the local bullies of recent seasons, with two league titles in the last three years. This season, though, things are a bit different. For the first time since 1982, the Rayados are facing a rival that can claim the title of "defending champions."
The big advantage for Monterrey this season is that the match will be played at home, in the comfortable confines of Estadio Tecnologico. Not only is Monterrey undefeated at the Tec this year, but they have also systematically demolished almost every opposing team that has entered the stadium. In their last seven games at home -- in both league play and the CCL tournament -- Monterrey has claimed seven victories by an absolutely astounding 22-3 scoring margin. Most of this success is due to a potent attack up front, led by the world-class Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris. When both players are healthy, there is no better striker partnership in all of Mexico.
If there is any team that can challenge Monterrey's supremacy at home, though, it may just be Tigres. No other team in the league is better equipped in the back to slow down the dynamic duo of Suazo and de Nirgris. The Tigres backline is anchored by Juninho and Hugo Ayala, and aided by the play of talented defensive midfielders Salcido and Manuel Viniegra. The key battle of the match will undoubtedly be between the Tigres defense and the Monterrey attack. Monterrey is the highest scoring team in the league this season (26 goals), while Tigres has been the league’s best defensive side (8 goals conceded). On Saturday, something has to give.
In recent seasons the defense has gained supremacy in the rivalry. The last two Clasico Regios in Monterrey have produced two scoreless draws. Contrast that with the last two Chivas-America matches which have produced seven total goals. Monterrey may have more passion in the crowd, but if the game wants to break out of the shadows and have fans nationwide taking notice, then this season's edition of the Tigres-Rayados rivalry will need to produce a slightly better showing on the field.