Monterrey will attempt to defend their CONCACAF Champions League title when they host Santos Laguna Wednesday evening in the first leg of the 2012 final. Although they failed to impress in the Club World Cup after winning last season's Champions League, the Rayados have an opportunity to win the tournament again and get another chance against the best clubs in the world in the next edition.
Meanwhile, they are comfortably in the playoff mix in the domestic league, and have to be considered among the favorites in the upcoming Liguilla. They have recent success in the Mexican Primera, as they won the 2009 and 2010 Apertura tournaments. In fact, it could be argued that the last few years have been the most successful in the club's history.
What accounts for this recent success? While talent, bringing in a combination of established veterans and young talent, and good fortune has helped Monterrey, the most compelling argument is the culture of stability surrounding the club. With the same coach, Victor Manuel Vucetich, in charge since 2009, and a stable core of players returning year after year, Monterrey has been able to go from strength to strength. Furthermore, considering the culture of instability present in Mexico, with the short tournament system encouraging frequent coaching changes and constant player turnover, Monterrey's constants have allowed them to weather the storm better than any team in Mexico.
Vucetich came to Monterrey in 2009, and only Morelia and Cruz Azul have also kept the same manager since 2009. That Vucetich has stayed with Monterrey for even this long is something of a surprise, as his extensive coaching resume shows him typically staying for a year or so at a time. Still, when the Rayados struggled following the CCL triumph last year, the club's owners stayed with Vucetich, and he did not bother to resign.
Although it could be argued a team as talented as Monterrey should not have the struggles they had for most of 2011, the fact that they had recently won two Primera titles plus the continental title probably led to a somewhat understandable lack of motivation and focus for the team. And by sticking with Vucetich, when the team found their rhythm again, they could pick up where they left off.
But the manager can only do so much, even if he has job security in a league where that is unavailable for most coaches. Monterrey won their titles behind the skill of forward Humberto Suazo, a Chilean international. Although Suazo is talented enough to deserve another look from a top European club, and he tried to get away in the last transfer window, his rumored transfer window to Boca Juniors fell through in the winter because Boca reportedly could not pay the required fee.
Suazo's desire to leave Monterrey can be seen as petulant, but the man has done nearly everything he could in five years in Mexico. Still, his inability to get away was to Monterrey's benefit, and once Suazo was reintegrated back into the squad in the current Clausura tournament, he helped to power them up the standings and into the CCL final. Without him, it is difficult to imagine Monterrey would get to the CCL final for two years running.
But Monterrey has built an impressive and consistent squad around Suazo as well. Aldo de Nigris has made an ideal forward partner to Suazo, and the pair may be perhaps the best striker tandem in the Americas at the moment. Argentine Neri Cardozo has added firepower from midfield, and a backline that includes Mexican internationals Ricardo Osorio and Sergio Perez leads to a stout defense. Add to that goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco, who at 25 years old still has a long career ahead of him and is certainly one of the top goalkeepers in Mexico, and this Monterrey lineup is imposing. Meanwhile, they have been able to integrate new additions in the squad, including Angel Reyna, a talented if troublesome star formerly with Club America who has been able to keep his mouth shut for the most part since moving north last fall.
As a result, unlike most clubs in Mexico, whose success is fleeting as players and managers come and go, Monterrey has built a club that has been able to compete for years at a time, but one that can also retool on the fly if changes take place. Suazo is seen as the key player of the club for a reason, but if the rest of the squad stays intact and he indeed leaves in the coming months, they will only need to make an addition or two and still be able to compete.
In the very short term, the culture of stability surrounding Monterrey help make them the favorites for this year's CCL title. Not only did the club win the title just last year, but nearly all of the players and the coach know how to win it. On Wednesday, they will take that experience and stability and attempt to be the first team to win back-to-back titles in the CCL era.