Santos Laguna vs. Monterrey, 2013 CONCACAF Champions League final: First leg preview

Lintao Zhang

Can Santos end Monterrey's Champions League reign?

Traditionally, the CONCACAF Champions League has been won by the Mexican club that cared most about the tournament. While some teams punted on the competition, some have taken it seriously and they've been rewarded -- none more so than Monterrey.

Monterrey have won the Champions League the last two seasons and while that is obviously in large part due to their tremendous team and the management of Victor Manuel Vucetich, it is also because the Rayados have made the competition a priority while others haven't. While teams like Tigres and Toluca have fielded less than full strength teams, Monterrey has put their best foot forward, sometimes at the expense of Liga MX, so they could win and advance to the Club World Cup.

But another team has started to make the Champions League a priority as well -- Santos Laguna.

Like Monterrey, Santos have been rewarded for the emphasis they have put on the Champions League, advancing to consecutive finals. But last year the Guerreros were turned away in the final Monterrey, a loss they hope to avenge this year when they meet the Rayados in another Champions League final.

For years, the front line of Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris set Monterrey apart from their challengers, but that isn't the case anymore. The title of "CONCACAF's best front line" has moved to Torreon, where Santos can line up Oribe Peralta, Darwin Quintero and Herculez Gomez, all in form and all terrifying for opposing defenses. With those three going forward and Felipe Baloy anchoring the defense, CONCACAF power may now rest with Santos, who enter the final as favorites despite squaring off against the two-time champions.

Monterrey still have something to say about things, though. As Santos' attacking trio may be, at his best Suazo is still the best striker in the region. Jesus Zavala is better than anyone Santos have in the midfield, too, and Walter Ayovi is a Swiss Army knife, making them as good, if not better, than the teams that won this competition in each of the last two years.

But for the first time, they are not the favorites. The other team who has made the competition a priority is, and Santos may be rewarded with a trip to the Club World Cup for it.

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