The Columbus Crew will face the team’s toughest test yet in 2021 on Wednesday in the friendly confines of historic Crew Stadium. Mexican powerhouse CF Monterrey comes to Columbus for a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal showdown against the reigning MLS Cup champions.
Monterrey will bring plenty of Champions League experience to Ohio’s capital, having won the tournament four times, including an unprecedented threepeat from 2010-2013. Monterrey most recently took home the title in 2019. Clearly, Rayados (striped ones) are no strangers to the big occasion and have proven their ability to navigate through the tournament to find themselves on top.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from both sides in this game.
CF Monterrey at a Glance:
Record: 7-4-5, 25 points in Liga MX
League Form: L-L-L-W-W
Leading Scorer: Rogelio Funes Mori (9)
Assist Leader: Maximilliano Meza (3)
Player to Watch: Rogelio Funes Mori
It seems almost too easy to pick the top scorer for the opposition but make no mistake about it, Funes Mori is a nightmare for opposing center backs. The 30-year-old Argentine has spent time playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world including Argentine giants River Plate and Portuguese outfit Benfica.
At 6-foot-1, Funes Mori is a threat in the air as well as with his feet. With his natural size and technical ability, Funes Mori has scored 121 goals in 240 games for Monterrey. The stirker is a perfect fit for Monterrey’s playing style and often finds himself in dangerous positions.
The Black & Gold will need to be well aware of Funes Mori’s whereabouts at all times over the course of these two legs if they are going to advance.
How CF Monterrey play:
Monterrey differs significantly from the majority of Liga MX in the team’s style of play. Mexican teams traditionally feature a lot of short passing and possession, working the ball up the field before trying to create dangerous opportunities.
However, Monterrey swings the other direction in terms of the team’s attacking philosophy. Rayados typically set up in the same shape as a possession-based team but looks to play a long direct ball as soon as the opportunity presents itself. The team’s attack often features long balls directly into their center forward or a long diagonal ball to one of the wingers. This playing style typically is utilized to place a priority on strength and speed up top, as well as putting pressure on their opponents in the Monterrey attacking half.
Defensively, Monterrey places a huge emphasis on high pressure to cause turnovers and mistakes. When done successfully, the team looks to pounce and attack quickly. Rayados’ emphasis on high pressure on the ball works well in Liga MX as most teams look to connect passes and work the ball up the field, similar to Columbus’ playing style. However, when Monterrey’s opposition does a good job of handling the pressure and making Rayados defend for long periods of time, they can be vulnerable in defense.
How the Crew can win:
The Black & Gold face an incredibly tough task against Monterrey. Due to the Champions League format of home and away legs, there will be a significant emphasis placed on the Crew’s home match. Not only is it important to keep Monterrey off the board (due to the away goals tiebreak) but Columbus must also look to jump out to a lead in Leg 1, as winning on the road at Monterrey will be difficult.
So what can the Black & Gold do to get a favorable result?
Firstly, and most importantly, the Crew needs to control the flow of the game. This will be much easier said than done but it is a must if Columbus is to win this match. Since Monterrey’s game plan is focused on utilizing speed and power in the directness in attacks, a game that is wide open and goes back and forth favors the visitors.
On the other hand, the Black & Gold are much more suited to be in a game that has more flow to it, where they are able to possess and connect more passes. Thus, the Crew needs to focus on controlling the game and avoiding direct play and end to end action. While it may or may not make it more entertaining from a viewer’s perspective, a more controlled game would certainly favor Columbus.
Secondly, there will be a huge emphasis for the Black & Gold on winning first and second balls in this game. These first and second balls will play a huge part in Wednesday’s game, mostly because there will be a lot of them. Since Monterrey tends to be more direct in attack, there will be an abundance of first and second balls to be won. Whichever team can consistently win both these balls will be at a huge advantage.
Specifically for the Crew, the second balls will allow the team to control possession, which favors Columbus’ playing style. In fact, the concept of winning second balls is nothing new to head coach Caleb Porter, who has discussed this concept multiple times over the last couple of years.
Lastly, the Black & Gold need to be very solid in defensive transition. This is because the Crew takes up a wide and expansive shape when in possession. Thus, when Columbus first loses the ball, the team usually isn’t in great defensive positions, allowing opponents to counter attack quickly, knowing that their defensive integrity is temporarily compromised.
Even though the Crew faces this challenge on a regular basis, it significantly increases against Monterrey. The majority of Rayados' best chances come in these transition moments and they usually attack with reckless abandon in these moments. Due to the team’s power and pace up top, Monterrey can be dealt with when attacking and transition. The Crew can help manage this by not giving the ball away in dangerous areas of the field, effectively counter-pressing or applying intense pressure upon the loss of possession in an attempt to win the ball back quickly or making it a point of emphasis to recover quickly behind the ball in these moments in order to maintain a superiority of defenders in between Monterrey and Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room.
The Black & Gold have a tough task this Wednesday in facing a Mexican and Champion League super power. However, the Crew can help itself by controlling the flow of the game, winning first and second balls and effectively stalling Monterrey’s attacking transition.