Through 13 matches, Rayados trail América on only goal difference for league-leading honors. With their scoreless draw against Mazatlán on Saturday night, their 7W, 4D, 2L record has them atop the league with 25 points, 3 clear of 5th placed Toluca for a spot in the top 4, which secures them a Repechaje round bye, which in the end is important to a degree, considering that single match can go either way if any club doesn’t come out particularly sharp on that given day.
The surprising note here is that they’ve somehow managed to maintain a consistently positive streak of results this season despite owning atrocious periods of play in some matches, and have clearly been lucky in a few of those victories. The San Luis and Querétaro victories, for instance, just 5 days apart, were both played at what appeared to be walking pace for Rayados. That’s not so much testament to La Pandilla’s quality, but more so to the others’ lack of. A penalty was enough in one, while the other was a rival defensive mistake. Even the Tijuana victory last week, where they had created no real harm until Abraham Flores’ boneheaded red card 36 minutes in, opened it up for them.
It happened again on Saturday, where despite creating a few opportunities, you got the sense it was minimal effort from these Rayados players. Apart from Berterame and Aguirre up front who have consistently looked dangerous, Pizarro lacking the quality in his final decisions with the ball as always; Vegas with his poor crossing and defensive decisions; bad wide-open return passes by most players on the offensive end; Romo, Meza, Ortiz, and González’s failures to contribute consistently; big holes on defense causing dangerous rivals’ counter-attacks. This all happened on Saturday, and Mazatlán isn’t even in the Repechaje placing. I’m not knocking Mazatlán in any way, but this was simply a game Rayados had to have despite the rain, and they proved incapable. 4 total shots on goal in a game you “dominated” and had to win just won’t cut it.
After getting off to a “red-hot” start to the season (going 6W, 1D, 1L in their first 8 matches), Vucetich and company have certainly cooled off of late, going just 1W, 3D, 1L over their last 5. However, that’s not the most concering part. After deserving a victory against Toluca on the road, their numb Clásico performance, followed by a 1-0 defeat to the hands of then low-tier Chivas, followed by a one-man advantage victory against Tijuana, and finally another numb display with Mazatlán, it appears results are starting to catch up with Monterrey more than it being a simple coincidence. Their apathetic attitude and lazy effort during stretches at a time won’t hold up much longer.
Now, I’m not arguing Rayados don’t have the talent to be champs. They absolutely have the quality to be easy favorites. The issue with this club (as it has been for the past few years) is their attitude on the pitch. And despite it working throughout most of the season, be it due to facing inferior clubs or tougher clubs either nursing injuries or not going all out in games, when it comes playoff time, these other clubs don’t give an inch. And if there’s something that’s characterized Rayados under Vucetich, Aguirre, Mohamed, and Alonso over the past years, it’s their failure to garner a tough mental attitude from their players, ultimately costing them season after season.
With 4 games on their remaining schedule, Rayados still have time to pick up the pace and enter the playoffs on a high note. With that being said, history suggests Vucetich will rather just watch out for his players and make sure they make it in one piece, and just try to carry on through the playoffs, maintaining the same attitude they’ve had all season. No matter who they have up front scoring goals, if this club doesn’t change its attitude, it will again hit a brick wall quickly come playoff time.