The Columbus Crew heads south of the border to finish off the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League tie with Mexican side CF Monterrey. The first matchup in Columbus featured a little bit of everything as the two sides fought to a 2-2 draw.
Despite the even scoreline, Monterrey has a distinct advantage for two reasons. Obviously, playing at home is a major advantage in this tournament due to the travel involved. Additionally, Monterrey has two away goals from the first leg, which acts as the aggregate score tiebreaker Champions League.
On top of all of this disadvantage heading into the second, the Crew will be without superstar Lucas Zelarayan after he picked up a questionable yellow card in the previous match that will force a suspension for his second of the tournament. However, any sort of victory in this match will see Columbus advance to the semifinals later this year.
Head coach Caleb Porter and his squad have it stacked against them in this second leg with everything to play for. Let’s take a look at what to expect from each side heading into this match.
CF Monterrey at a Glance:
Record: 8-4-5, 28 points
League Form: W-L-L-L-W
Leading Scorer: Rogelio Funes Mori (9)
Assist Leader: Maximilliano Meza (3)
Player to Watch: Rogelio Funes Mori
Despite not scoring in the first leg, Funes Mori will continue to be a focal point for the Monterrey attack in the second leg. At 6-foot-1, Funes Mori has proven to be 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 242 games for Monterrey and is a perfect fit for the team’s playing style, often finding himself in dangerous positions to put the ball away.
In addition to his goal scoring threat, Funes Mori is also adept at creating space and scoring opportunities for his teammates. Whether he does this with his underrated passing ability or his off-ball movement and ability to attract defenders, Funes Mori is a constant danger in front of goal. The Black & Gold defense will need to be well aware of the forward.
How CF Monterrey play:
The Crew was pretty vocal about feeling like the better side last Wednesday. However, it is important to consider that Monterrey was playing a relatively reserve squad in the first leg and it’s likely they put out the best lineup possible for the upcoming second leg. Thus, it is safe to expect that Monterrey may look a bit more polished and crisp on the field in this leg.
Monterrey has used several different tactical systems and styles of play over the course of the season and is capable of effectively playing in different ways. That being said, Rayados most often look to play long, direct balls as soon as the opportunity presents itself directly into Funes Mori 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 the opponents in the Monterrey attacking half. In addition to this, the vast amount of ground that this requires the opponents to cover usually means that the attacking players often find themselves in 1 v. 1 scenarios, where they excel. This attacking philosophy often leads to goals as it is difficult to effectively defend for 90 minutes. In fact, Monterrey has only failed to score in two of the team’s last 12 games and has scored 19 goals in that same span.
Defensively, Monterrey places an emphasis on placing high pressure on the opponents to cause turnovers and mistakes. When Rayados do this successfully, they look to attack quickly and catch their opponents out of possession. Their emphasis on high pressure on the ball works well in the Mexican league as most teams look to connect passes and work the ball up the field, similar to Columbus’ playing style.
Monterrey did this early in the first leg and it led to a goal before the team dropped off. The Crew will expect to see more of this style in Mexico.
How the Crew can win:
Statistically speaking, the Black & Gold’s chances of progressing to the next round go up with every goal they score in this match. However, the more the Crew pushes for a goal, the more vulnerable the team becomes to Monterrey’s attack.
On the other end of the spectrum, Columbus knows that a 1-0 victory would see the team progress. So there are more than a few ways that Porter can choose to approach this second leg. No matter which tactical approach he takes, there are a few things the Black & Gold need to do to ensure they go through.
First and foremost, the Crew needs to be clinical in front of goal. Columbus was far more dangerous than Monterrey last Wednesday and still only managed a 2-2 draw. Clearly, this was due to a few defensive errors, however, the Black & Gold need to be sure to convert any and all scoring chances they are presented with on Wednesday as these chances will likely be at a premium.
In addition to scoring, the Crew needs to limit Rayados’ attacking chances. This is easier said than done but still a priority nonetheless.
The Black & Gold did a good job of managing defensive transition last Wednesday (with the exception of Monterrey’s first goal) and will need to do the same again in the second leg. In conjunction with this, Columbus’ backline and goalkeeper need to deal with long balls and crosses into the box better.
There is no doubt that the surprise exclusion of captain Jonathan Mensah did not help the Crew last Wednesday. Without Mensah, the Black & Gold struggled at times to manage flighted balls into the box and were punished for this on Monterrey’s stoppage time equalizer. Since long balls and crosses are a large part of Monterrey’s offensive attack, Mensah’s return will be a huge boost to the Crew’s backline for the second leg.
Lastly, Columbus’ ability to manage the game will play a vital role in determining the outcome of this matchup. Whether the Black & Gold push for an open, end-to-end game with a lot of goals, or opt for a more pragmatic, controlled pace, the Crew needs to do a good job of making sure the game is played at the pace the team desires.