Few soccer fans need an introduction to Monterrey: four-time league champions, three-time Copa MX winners, three-time Concacaf Champions League holders. So it’s safe to say that this is the biggest opponent Atlanta United has gone up against in its short history.
As the scene shifts from Washington, D.C., to Nuevo Leon for Atlanta’s match against Monterrey in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals, I had a chance to catch up with Pete Schlenker from FMF State of Mind, our sister site that covers everything Mexican football, to help us dive into what to expect from the home side.
1. Looking back at the first round, a late penalty for Monterrey was the difference in the team moving on to the quarterfinals. What’s the feeling among Rayados fans about how things went there, and what needs to improve if they’re to beat Atlanta?
The team has the personnel and the capability to win both the CCL and Liga MX, and so it really depends which team shows up - the team that buried Pachuca 5-0 on the opening day of the season or the team that drew 0-0 with Puebla a couple weekends ago. Alianza FC played to draw 0-0, with 10 men behind the ball and had three defenders crash on Rogelio Funes Mori when he was in the box. While it worked to limit Funes Mori, Monterrey ended up going through anyway, although they did need two penalties to get the 1-0 victory.
2. For Atlanta fans who may not know much about Monterrey, who are a few players that they need to keep a close eye on?
Funes Mori is one of the best strikers in North America and along with Andre-Pierre Gignac, who plays for crosstown rivals Tigres UANL, the two best strikers in Liga MX reside in the city of Monterrey. He’s incredibly good at getting the ball in the box and using his strength to fend off defenders and get shots off in tight areas.
Maxi Meza in an Argentina international midfielder who joined los Rayados in the January transfer window, and this team was already deep at midfield to begin with. Along with the young central midfield pair of Jonathan Gonzalez and Carlos Rodriguez, the team also has attacking midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, and wingers Avilés Hurtado and Dorlan Pabón.
They’ve also got a pair of Mexico internationals at fullback: Jesús Gallardo, who can also play wing, and Miguel Layún, who joined Monterrey from Villarreal in January after a few years in Europe. Oh, and the leading scorer for the team in the Apertura 2018 was central defender Nico Sanchez, who also takes penalties for Monterrey. He’s incredibly dominant in the air.
This is a very deep team that can boast a number of options at almost every position.
3. Like Atlanta, Monterrey will be dealing with fixture congestion over both legs of the tie. What ways are the club adjusting its roster to allow for that and to really get a good a lineup as it can out there?
Monterrey didn’t start Funes Mori against Chivas last weekend, and manager Diego Alonso also rested Hurtado and Gonzalez. They also rested Mexico U21 international defender Cesár Montes, and while Sanchez has been remarkably durable, Alonso could also recall Jose Basanta, the veteran Argentine defender.
The other issue with the timing of the matches with Atlanta United is that in between the two CCL ties, Monterrey also has the Clásico Regio on March 9th against Tigres UANL, the biggest fixture of the year for Monterrey fans. Losing at home to Tigres would be a disaster, but then again, going out to a MLS team in the quarterfinals would also be unthinkable for this team that has designs on winning at least one, if not both, trophies this season.