Sunday's match between Toluca and Monterrey will be the first time the teams have met in league play this season, yet the two clubs are already familiar with each other. Just over a month ago, Toluca and Monterrey met twice in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, in which the Rayados advanced with a pair of 1-0 victories.
Those two losses by Toluca were part of a brutal stretch for the club over the past six weeks. Toluca have dropped four of their last five league matches, which when combined with the CCL results, means they have lost six times in their last seven outings. This disastrous string of results has put Toluca manager Sergio Lugo in a bit of hot water. His first season leading the team after the departure of Jose Manuel de la Torre has not exactly gone according to plan.
The good news for Toluca is that they are still in the thick of the playoff race. Due to the mediocrity of Group 2, the Red Devils are only one point behind the three teams tied for the group lead. A win would keep the team firmly in Liguilla contention, but more importantly would bring a brief respite from a fan base growing increasingly impatient.
To prove this team is capable of a resurgence over the final six weeks of the season, Toluca need an impressive performance on Sunday. A solid win over one of the league's best teams in front of the home fans would be a perfect way for the Red Devils to regain some positive momentum. As great as this sounds, a win over Monterrey will be an incredibly difficult task.
The Rayados are just coming into form, and appear to be peaking as a team at exactly the right time. In addition to cruising through CCL play, Monterrey have also won three straight league games. More impressively, two of those wins came without the injured Humberto Suazo, who is now back to full strength.
Even with their upcoming CCL semifinal against Cruz Azul on Wednesday, Monterrey still won’t be taking this game lightly. The Rayados need the points, as they currently sit in second place of Group 1, just one point behind UANL Tigres. Things are also closing in behind them, as Chivas moved to within one point of Monterrey after Friday night's win over Necaxa.
None of this should really trouble Monterrey, though. In addition to Suazo, striker Aldo de Nigris will be returning from a solid stint with the Mexican national team. De Nigris looked great against Venezuela on Tuesday night, scoring as a second half substitute. Against a Toluca defense that is prone to giving up goals in bunches, this could spell trouble. The Red Devils backline cannot afford any lapses against Monterrey. Between Suazo, de Nigris, Neri Cardozo, Walter Ayovi, and others, the Rayados just have too many weapons not to take advantage. Even if they avoid any defensive breakdowns, Toluca will still have their hands full. Barring an incredible performance by the Red Devils in front of their passionate home fans, look for Monterrey and their superior talent to get the job done on the road.
Toluca vs. Monterrey, Sunday at 1pm est, Telemundo