There is a clear favorite in CONCACAF Champions League Group D. And while it is true that the Mexican side in every group is favored, the Seattle Sounders face last season's CCL Champions - CF Monterrey Rayados. Last season saw the Sounders hold a 2-nil lead with a mainly reserve lineup, but then Humberto Suazo entered the game and in 6 short minutes Seattle went from history makers to just another footnote.
If you are a regular reader over at FMFStateOfMind you know that Monterrey has been in a poor stretch of league play lately, with injuries being the main cause. If you don't read it you know now. If that makes you confident, it shouldn't. They are returning to health right now. Just in time to face Seattle in tonight's important match. With 10 points needed to ensure advancement which ever side gets three points is in control through the rest of the Group Stage. Eben over at FMFSoM answers three questions to give you a preview of the match.
SaH: Monterrey obviously was the class of the CONCACAF Champions League last year, but haven't done quite as well in League play south of the border. Is this due to a change in their priorities?
FMFSoM: There hasn't been any serious change in priorities. Last season Monterrey was just a bit inconsistent, and for whatever reason they seemed to perform a little better in the CCL matches. The Rayados of course won the domestic league title the season before last, so last year there was a bit of a championship hangover which led to a very slow start. Monterrey did recover enough to make the playoffs last season, where they lost a hard-fought first round series to eventual champions Pumas. This season the Rayados have been battling some serious injury problems. Humberto Suazo, Aldo de Nigris, Jose Basanta, Sergio Santana, Darvin Chavez, and William Paredes have all missed varying amounts of time due to injury in recent weeks. And while Monterrey have lost 3 of their last 4 matches, considering the personnel issues they've had to deal with, they are still in solid shape. The team currently sits in fifth place in the Primera league standings.
SaH: Most of the team has stayed the same since last season. What effect will the additions of Delgado and Chavez have in CCL play?
FMFSoM: The core of the squad is definitely unchanged. The addition of Chavez has given them some needed depth on the backline. This has been very important this season, as injuries to William Parades have pushed Chavez into more time at the left back spot. Chavez started 3 of the last 4 matches for Monterrey, although he was sent off in Saturday's game vs. Chivas (his domestic league suspension does not affect his CCL status, though). Delgado has been an important attacking force in the midfield for Monterrey. He has appeared in every game, starting 5 of the team's 6 matches so far this season.
SaH: Last year saw Monterrey rest several players at the start of the match, but in the end Humberto Suazo was needed to get the win in Monterrey. Will this year see a more regular lineup, particularly in light of FC Dallas win at UNAM Pumas?
FMFSoM: With these early CCL matches you really never know. You have to assume that at least a few non-regulars will get significant playing time for Monterrey, but that doesn't mean we won't see Suazo. The Monterrey striker pool has been decimated by injury this season, with Suazo, Aldo de Nigris, and Sergio Santana all suffering from various ailments. During the last two matches, manager Victor Vucetich has been forced to play with a lone striker up top -- Dario Carreno. Suazo missed the last two matches (during which the team's scorning dropped off dramatically - just 1 total goal in those 2 games), and de Nigris has missed most all of the season. De Nigris finally made his first appearance of the year this weekend, coming on as a very late sub against Chivas. Monterrey's success really depends on both strikers being on the field. The good news for Rayados fans is that both Suazo and De Nigris went through a full training session on Monday. It's increasingly possible that we see both players take the field for the first time this season on Tuesday against Seattle. If nothing else, the CCL match could be used to give them each a bit of game experience before fully returning to domestic play.
SaH: Projected Formation/Lineup?
FMFSoM: It is much too hard to predict an exact lineup for these early CCL matches. As far as formation, that really depends on the status of Suazo and de Nigris. The last two matches Monterrey has deployed a 4-3-2-1 formation with Carreno alone up top. Vucetich much prefers to play a traditional 4-4-2, and if Suazo and de Nigris are both selected to start that's definitely what we'll see. One young player who could get some significant playing time is Jesus Manuel Corona. The 18-year-old midfielder could potentially get the start on the right wing, especially if Delgado is given some much needed rest.