🏆 What to watch for in tonight's Concacaf Champions League Final
Will favorite América or host Monterrey take the prize?
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The Concacaf Champions League will be decided tonight, with Monterrey hosting Club América in the one-leg final.
As we’ve discussed in the past, whether it’s an MLS team or a Central American spoiler, the tournament has juice as long as it doesn’t come down to domestic matches we’ve seen (or, in this case, will see: The last Liga MX meeting between the clubs came in a 1-0 Monterrey victory in January with the next league contest set for Nov. 6).
Still, there is plenty of intrigue around tonight’s match, which in addition to crowning the regional champion determines Concacaf’s representative at the Club World Cup, set to take place in the UAE in early 2022.
Let’s start here…
Is Pedro Aquino fit in the midfield?
I was initially going to title this section “Who wins the midfield battle?” or something, but Pedro Aquino is such a significant player I think he merits his own section.
The Peru international is critical to América’s success this season but suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday’s 1-0 América victory over Tigres, coming out in the 37th minute.
Aquino trained with the rest of Las Aguilas during the open portion of Wednesday’s session. Yet, manager Santiago Solari is being cagey about the midfielder’s status, saying his lineup tonight “will be a surprise.”
Though Mario “Mono” Osuna put in a capable shift in relief, it’s tough to overstate how big having a fully healthy Aquino would be.
He picks off an absurd number of passes, with a 2.83 per 90 possession adjusted interception rate (which seeks to account for the time in which defensive players can’t perform defensive actions since their team, you know, has the ball), according to StatsBomb numbers, plus excelling in tackling and finding passes that contribute to scoring plays despite rarely putting himself in the final third.
With Rayados getting heavy contributions from Maxi Meza in this competition, having a stopper like Aquino bolster a back line dealing with absences (Miguel Layun is cup-tied) and injuries (Center backs Bruno Valdez and Sebastian Caceres both are carrying knocks, while Jorge Sanchez is returning from an injury of his own), having Aquino from the opening whistle would be an enormous boost for Solari.
Monterrey also are coping with injury absences, notably without center back Hector Moreno, though he may be fit to make the bench. Look for Sebastian Vegas and Cesar Montes to partner at the back, with Erick Aguirre coming into the XI as a fullback.
There also is some doubt about the status of Duvan Vergara, the Colombian winger and Rayados leading scorer who suffered a head injury in a weekend defeat to Necaxa.
While a concussion reportedly was confirmed, it appears Concacaf regulations would allow Vergara to see the field, something other protocol would not permit.
Who’s finding the back of the net?
Rogelio Funes Mori has a pair of goals in the CCL, with a double against Cruz Azul in Rayados’ 4-1 stomping of La Maquina, but has only four goals in league play this season and just one since late August.
That doesn’t bode well for a forward matching up against one of the region’s best goalkeepers in Guillermo Ochoa. Maxi Meza, as mentioned above, has a nice scoring record with a pair of goals in the second leg of the quarterfinals, plus one each in the two-legged semi, but he’s scored just once since those matches.
While América is having a better campaign, it also hasn’t seen players pour in goals.
Álvaro Fidalgo’s four goals leads the way in league play with forward Henry Martín only having two league goals this season to add to his single CCL tally.
Yet, Martín noted he’s not bothered if he’s scoring the goals as long as the team is getting the results.
“I don’t know what you call ‘a spectacle’. It’s soccer. It’s win or lose. We don’t care what people think,” Martín said when a journalist asked if we’ll see more exciting play from América tonight than in a typical Liga MX match. “We want to win, we want to show it on the field, and that’s spectacular for us. Getting the points we have in the league and getting to the final where we are now, that’s spectacular for us.”
“For us it’s important to win the games and, really, if you win 1-0 or you win 10-0, at the end it’s a win,” he said when asked again about whether or not the way a team wins matters. “I think press or some fans don’t like how Cholo plays at Atletico Madrid, but he wins and there he is, still winning with the same team and same players. I think the fans care about the team winning.”
It’s an interesting comparison for a player coached by the ex-manager of the other big team in Madrid, one that perhaps puts more value on the form in which a game is won, but of course it’s a totally valid point.
Still, you have to score to win, and América will have to find a goal from somewhere to lift a trophy.
Will form be a factor?
América is absolutely rolling in the league. Rayados not so much.
Las Aguilas have lost just once since June, a Sept. 18 reverse in Toluca, on the way to the top spot in Liga MX. Monterrey sits seventh in the league with a 5-5-5 record that looks more like a fast food menu deal than the mark of a top team. They’re on a four-match losing streak in league play.
Monterrey manager Javier Aguirre insisted that story has little to do with this one and that his team can draw on what it has done in the CCL to still find success.
“We don’t involve the league. That’s another story. We made full changes in Concacaf, and we’re locked in on that,” Monterrey manager Javier Aguirre said Wednesday. “When we look at what we did against Cruz Azul, Columbus or Pantoja, we analyzed the opponent. We didn’t get into the league at any minute. This game is a final, and we see how we’re going to play this final.”
Rayados also have the benefit of playing at home, though even that is thrown into doubt both by history (Tigres celebrating winning the Liga MX title at the Estadio BBVA in the first ever Final Regia, though Monterrey winning the 2019 CCL title at the same venue dulled the pain of the defeat to the crosstown rival) and by América’s boisterous support throughout the country.
While Aguirre is right that this is an entirely different tournament, his team will have to show an entirely different face than the one it has in the past month. If not, América’s well-oiled machine will follow its formula, denying its opponent scoring chances and find the goal needed to win glory.