One of the best MLS teams in recent memory traveled to Mexico to take on one of the deepest teams in Liga MX in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions League. Atlanta United was looking for their first win in Mexico in the CCL, while Monterrey had the weight of expectations, as this team has been built to win the Clausura 2019 title and the CCL as well.
The first half between the reigning MLS Champions and Monterrey was all about the set pieces. Monterrey opened the score from a penalty kick and hit the crossbar from a free kick, while “Pity” Martinez came the closest to scoring for Atlanta United with two free kicks, one of which came from what appeared to be about 40 yards out.
Monterrey almost opened the scoring in the 10th minute, as Nico Sanchez’s header from a Miguel Layun free kick hit the crossbar, only inches from going into the back of the net, as Sanchez had risen above everyone else and Brad Guzan was nowhere to been found.
A few minutes later, Dorlan Pabón was fouled in the box, and Monterrey got the opening they were looking for, with the penalty called in their favor.
Nico Sanchez took the penalty kick, and Guzan was unable to make the save and so los Rayados took the lead in the 17th minute.
The rest of the half featured a number of absurd shots from outside of the area by Monterrey players and a pair of Pity Martinez free kicks that came close for Atlanta. Both sides seemed to often resort to heavy fouls, with a yellow for Remedi for an extremely late tackle on Avilés Hurtado and Jesús Gallardo got a yellow for a foul on Pity Martinez from Atlanta.
The second half started much as the first half ended, with Monterrey in the more dominant position, but unable to turn pressure into goals. Monterrey came close three times from the 50th minute to the 56th minute, but each time an Atlanta defender or Guzan in goal was able to stop the scoring chance.
Atlanta had appeared to come close before that from a Brek Shea shot, but he was correctly ruled offsides in the build-up in what had been Atlanta’s best chance up to that point in time, but not much else had been going the visitor’s way, with Atlanta starting to hang back a bit and try and limit attacking pace of Monterrey. The chippy play continued, with a number of players and even Monterrey manager Diego Alonso getting yellow cards for fouls and dissent.
Jonathan Gonzalez came off in the 64th minute after appearing to get injured, and he was replaced by Celso Ortiz. A few minutes later, Avilés came off for Rodolfo Pizarro.
Funes Mori was put clear on goal in the 70th minute, but he was unable to corral the ball and it went out harmlessly. Funes Mori had another chance in the 77th minute from a Miguel Layún free kick, but he wasn’t able to turn and get a shot off before the ball was taken off of his boot and again, Monterrey were left frustrated as another chance on goal went wasted by the hosts.
And then the dam burst for Monterrey and they started to put the game to bed.
First, Dorlan Pabón scored another outside of the box golazo, taking a good, simple pass from Carlos Rodriguez, getting a half-yard of space and sending a hard shot that flew past a helpless Guzan to put los Rayados up 2-0.
Maxi Meza was then replaced by Leonel Vangioni as Alonso looked to shore up the defense, meaning that Gallardo moved up to the left wing from the left back position. It didn’t take long for that move to pay off dividends.
Gallardo was in the right place at the right time, as after Pabón got yet another cross off down the right hand side in the 84th minute, and while all of the Atlanta defenders went to try and stop Rogelio Funes Mori, the ball sailed over everyone’s head and right to an unmarked Gallardo at the back post. Gallardo would make no mistake and he buried a near-post shot past Guzan. Monterrey saw the rest of the game out easily, as it appeared that Atlanta came unglued a tad after the second goal from Monterrey.
A good win at home, as Monterrey will now take a 3-0 lead into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in a week’s time as Monterrey will try to get to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League.