COAHUILA, MEXICO - MARCH 14: Players of Santos Laguna celebrate a scored goal against the Seattle Sounders during a match as part of the CONCACAF Champions League at Estadio Corona on March 14, 2012 in Coahuila, Mexico. (Photo by Hans Maximo Musielik/Getty Images)
Santos Laguna travel to Monterrey on Wednesday night for the first leg of the Mexican Primera Liguilla final.
Monterrey and Santos Laguna are almost unquestionably the two strongest teams in North America at the moment. Not only were they the two finalists in CONCACAF Champions League, but they finished first and second in the Mexican Primera's 2012 Clausura regular season standings. Both teams have accomplished Mexican internationals and internationals from other countries, and both had to beat top opposition to get to the Liguilla final.
Santos made the final in dramatic fashion, pulling off an incredible comeback in the semifinal second leg against UANL Tigres. Down two goals in the dying minutes, Santos found the net twice through Oribe Peralta in a five minute span, sending them through to the final on a tiebreaker. Monterrey got through in slightly less dramatic fashion, comfortably defeating Club America.
Unlike most competitions where big finals are often conservative and defensive affairs, the Liguilla final will feature two teams trying to attack each other. Both Monterrey and Santos have talented defenders and defensive midfielders, but their forwards consistently steal the show.
Monterrey's attack is spearheaded by Chilean veteran Humberto Suazo and Mexican international Aldo de Nigris, supported by former Olympique Lyonnais and Argentina man Cesar Delgado, as well as former Boca Juniors and Argentina man Neri Cardozo. Santos have a large stable of strikers, led by the aforementioned Peralta, also a Mexican international. Colombian international Darwin Quintero provides the pace and creativity to compliment his size and finishing skills. Long time Santos star Daniel Ludueña will do most of the creating, while American Herculez Gomez is always dangerous off the bench.
Santos finished top of the table in the regular season and broke the long-running 'Superlider Curse' in the first round. The team that has finished top of the table has suffered a first round upset in the last four consecutive tournaments and a team has not won both the regular season and Liguilla playoffs since 2007, when Pachuca did it in the Clausura.
And not only is Santos fighting to kill off the Superlider Curse, but their current bad string of luck in finals. They're working on claiming the title of "Buffalo Bills of soccer" from Cruz Azul, who were runners up three times from 2008-2009. Santos have been runners up in three of the last four tournaments in Mexico, including the most recent one.
Santos play the first leg of the final on the road to Monterrey, where they'll hoping to simply do some damage control before heading home to Torreon. They have lost their last two competitive matches away to Monterrey by a score of 2-0. That result will give them a slim, but not a great chance heading home, and they probably have to improve on their recent performances at Estadio Tecnologico.
For more on the Liguilla final and the Mexican Primera, head over to FMF State Of Mind.