Monterrey demanded to be taken seriously last season.
In Mexico, the media generally focuses on the three Mexico City teams first and foremost. After that, the eyeballs go to Guadalajara where Chivas dominates coverage and Atlas gets some mention (in other seasons the currently last-place Zorros merit more). After last year’s final pitted Monterrey’s two teams against each other, Rayados and Tigres, it was clear that they too deserved the attention of the national press.
The Liga MX leader after 10 weeks of play, Santos Laguna, isn’t in any of those markets. If the press ignores Monterrey, it might not even know how to get to Torreon. Generally, you have to go to Monterrey and go four hours west, into the Chihuahuan Desert and then into the industrial area.
This year the Guerreros are demanding to be taken seriously as well, which the press will have to do if Santos tops the league after this week, which brings Rayados in from Monterrey for the final match of the weekend. In the Sunday night primetime slot, we’ll see if Santos is for real.
How did this happen? Why is Santos leading the league after finishing 14th in the 17-team league last tournament?
You have to start with Djaniny. The Cape Verde international has scored a dozen goals this season. He’s done it with his left foot, with his right foot and with his head. He’s scored when a teammate sets him up or when he goes it alone. Take out his two penalty kicks and he’s still scored three more goals than any other player in the league this season.
It’s also sort of an anomaly. Club America is undefeated, yet Santos have two points more thanks to their six victories to Las Aguilas’ four. That’s a sign of the team’s evolution under coach Robert Siboldi.
Santos drew nine matches last tournament and nearly set a Liga MX record with 11 in the tournament prior. “Stalemate Santos” became a thing on #LigaMXEng Twitter (OK, admittedly, I tried to start it and one or two others joined in). This season, Santos is finding a way to win the matches they drew all last year. They’re staying patient, shooting in the box more often instead of trying wild strikes from outside the area that were momentum killers last tournament.
They’re also giving up fewer goals in general, making comebacks a less frequent obligation. Nestor Araujo and Carlos Izquierdoz form one of the best center-back partnerships in the league, with U.S. international Jorge Villafana thriving at left back after several seasons of inconsistency in the lineup. Rumors had linked right back Jose Abella with a European move in the summer, and that doesn’t seem crazy with Santos’ propensity to sell young talent and Abella’s strong showings.
Monterrey goes into the Estadio Corona wounded, having lost two matches at home for the first time since last spring with a league defeat against Puebla and a cup loss in a penalty shootout against Queretaro. A team with the number of veterans in their squad will be eager to bounce back with a victory. Antonio Mohamed has tried to be less predictable with his formations this season with left back Leonel Vangioni’s injury forcing him to get creative at the back. Without Vangioni and likely without Jonathan Gonzalez, Alfonso Gonzalez and Jonathan Urretaviscaya because of injuries, he’ll have to pull out something inventive once again.
It still will be a tough test for Santos, one that if passed will deserve acclaim. Rayados and Tigres demanded respect by making the final last season. Now, Santos could turn the northern duo into a trio and show it’s worth of attention too.