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The Legacy of Humberto Suazo in Mexico

He transformed a mediocre team into a feared powerhouse, a status which remains with them today

Monterrey v America - Clausura 2013 Liga MX Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/LatinContent via Getty Images

Humberto Suazo was no doubt a world-class striker. He had the ability and the speed to leave his marker and get open to receive the ball or to at least become an option for his teammates. He had amazing pass accuracy that not many strikers include in their skill set, and perfected It as time went on. But more than anything, he had that killer instinct you look for in a goal scorer or your closer; once the ball reached his feet, you sensed an overwhelming danger and threat upon rivals’ goalies, and you knew he could score on in a flurry of ways. In other words, he was a nightmare to all defenders, and especially to goalkeepers.

The Chilean International arrived to Rayados de Monterrey for the start of the Apertura 2007, under the orders of then head coach Miguel Herrera. These would turn out to be the final games that Herrera would coach the team, and with Isaac Mizrahi taking over for the rest of the season, it was a season full of turmoil which didn’t fare well for Suazo; the team was a mess, and he only played in 12 games in which he scored just 3 goals.

Now retired Ricardo LaVolpe became head coach for the Clausura 2008, and Suazo won the scoring title that season with 13 netbusters. Rayados reached the semis in the playoffs and started to look like serious contenders. Unfortunately, they were unable to sustain their previous season’s success, and failed to make the playoffs in the Apertura 2008, as the inconsistencies continued, with Suazo scoring only 4 goals that season. People began to doubt if Suazo was the right guy to help lead this team to glory, but those doubts were soon to evaporate.

After signing Aldo de Nigris for the upcoming season, Ricardo LaVolpe was surprisingly let go by the club nine days prior to the start of the Clausura 2009. His replacement was none other than head coach Victor Manuel Vucetich. Little did they know, the final piece to the puzzle had been placed in the setup for what was to become the most successful era in Rayados’ history.

Fast-forward 11 months to the Apertura 2009 playoffs. “Chupete” scored the series clincher at America in the QF, and would complete his takeover as the best striker (possibly best player) in Mexico, as he led his team back from a 1-3 disadvantage to a 4-3 victory in the first leg of the Final vs. Cruz Azul, scoring the game winner at the 88th minute. And in the second leg, he scored the classic one touch goal past Corona to put the final dagger in La Maquina to help bring home Rayados’ third title in its history.

A month later, Suazo would leave for Spain as Real Zaragoza had an eye on what was going on in Northern Mexico. But after a short and unconvincing stint, and amid rumors and interests from other European clubs, “Chupete” would ultimately return to the blue and white.

After finishing 2nd in the Apertura 2010 league standings, Rayados would get revenge from the previous season and eliminate Pachuca to move on to the semis, where they squared off with Pumas. With a 0-0 draw in the first leg, and the same score in the 87th minute of the second leg, with a pressuring Pumas, Suazo touched the ball at midfield to see Pumas’ last man defender fall to the ground, and the Chilean took the ball for a 1-on-1 vs. Sergio Bernal. A swift move to his left saw “Chupete” clear the keeper for a simple touch on the ball to the back of the net to move on. And with the title on the line vs. Santos in the second leg of the Final, down by 1 goal, the Chilean scored the first goal of the game on a missile past Oswaldo Sánchez, as well as the third and final goal in what is one the most poetic goals you’ll see by a striker, taking possession of the ball just past midfield, running past Baloy as if he was nobody, and arching the ball on a soft touch past Oswaldo, as the crowd erupted, witnessing the best player in the league lead their team to securing its second title in three seasons, and its fourth title overall. This teams seems to be unbeatable.

Unfortunately for them, “Chupete” and Rayados would reach one more league final in his time with the club, in the Clausura 2012, which they would lose to the hands of Santos, starting a clear decline from that moment on.

Less than 6 months after its 4th league title, Rayados were back in another final, this time the CONCACAF Champions League. In the semis vs. Cruz Azul, with the aggregate score tied at 2, Suazo delivered on a high-pressure penalty shot to give Rayados the pass to the final. And in the Final, Suazo would do it again vs. Real Salt Lake, scoring from the penalty strike in the first leg’s 2-2 draw, and proving he had ice in his veins, scoring that definitive and tight goal in the second leg on the road en route to a 1-0 victory to clinch Monterrey’s first ever CONCACAF CL title.

He was back at it the following year, as “Chupete” scored both of the high-quality goals in Rayados’ 2-0 first leg win over Santos in the Final to put the series out of reach, with Neri Cardozo scoring the title clincher in the second leg. And it would happen again for the third year in a row. Clearly in decline at this point, he was not as involved in the goal-scoring, but once again did not fail to appear when it mattered most. He tied the game up on the road vs. LA Galaxy in the first leg of the semis, which would eventually help Rayados move on to the Final, where they would once again meet Santos. Behind by two goals with 30 minutes remaining in the second leg, Rayados would mount one of the most historic comebacks you’ll ever see in a Final, with Suazo appearing to put the cherry on top for the fourth and final goal vs. his long-time nemesis, Oswaldo Sánchez. Rayados would become the only team along with Cruz Azul to three-peat the CONCACAF CL. That would prove to be “Chupete’s” last Final with Rayados, and what a way to go out it was.

Suazo would remain at the club for another year and half, where we witnessed his steady decline. Over his final two seasons (Clausura and Apertura 2014), now at age 32 and 33, he played in only 18 games and scored just 4 goals, being less effective than ever and greatly losing mobility on the pitch, with a shoulder injury causing him to miss significant time as well. After his departure from Rayados in December 2014, he would go on to play one more year for his home country’s Colo-Colo before calling it quits for good.

“Chupete” left Rayados as the all-time leader in goals scored (121), and he remains that today, being followed closely by Rogelio Funes Mori (106). Funny enough, he wasn’t regularly in the fight for the league scoring title, but when he did score, they counted most. During his time with Rayados, he was a player that didn’t fear the big moment. If you look at the one thing that those 5 titles (2 Liga MX, 3 CCL) all have in common, it’s that Suazo is on the scorecard. And he scored the deciding goals in all of them except the last one vs. Santos, in which he still scored nonetheless. He also assisted important goals, such as the Aldo de Nigris header in the first title vs. Cruz Azul. As an offensive player, he was just the whole package.

So, what is Humberto Suazo’s legacy? He put Rayados on the map. Before him, Monterrey was an up and down club who struggled to find consistency. But Suazo turned them into an elite team. Coupled with the genius of Victor Manuel Vucetich, Suazo led the club to 5 titles in a span of 4 years, which also represents the “Golden Era” of Rayados. You don’t see this type of player come around very often, so it’s important to mention it when you do get lucky enough. It was with him that the club tasted consistent winning for the first time in its history, and thus became one of the top 3 teams in the league. Ultimately, Rayados became the biggest team in Mexico for a while, and there’s no way they could’ve pulled it off without “Chupete”.