From the Rocky Mountains to the Sierra Madre Oriental, the CONCACAF Champions League final will be disputed by Real Salt Lake and Monterrey, who tied fellow Mexican side Cruz Azul 1-1 on Wednesday to secure a 3-2 aggregate win.
Chilean striker Humberto Suazo struck the tying goal in the 81st minute after a controversial penalty was awarded Monterrey.
Cruz Azul took the lead in the 23rd minute via diminutive winger César Villaluz. The tally would have seen La Máquina advance had the aggregate stayed 2-2 due to the away-goal rule.
Each team made it known that they were out for the win. Just four minutes in, Cruz Azul forward Emanuel Villa unleashed a shot that flashed wide of the goal. Monterrey responded almost immediately, though, with a long-range effort from Suazo that forced a save from Jesús Corona.
The match eventually settled, though, and it was Cruz Azul who took early command of the action, marching forward and firing several warnings, including a free kick in the 22nd minute from Christian Giménez that just sailed over the crossbar.
[inline_node:333130]Villaluz’s goal would come just a minute later. Midfielder Hugo Droguett broke through and fired a potent shot that was blocked by Monterrey 'keeper Jonathan Orozco. Villaluz, ever-attentive, pounced on the rebound and buried his right-footed shot for the 1-0 lead, enough to give Cruz Azul a foot in the final.
Monterrey coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich had no choice but to remove a defender in favor of an attacker and, in the 34th minute, had ex-Boca Juniors midfielder Neri Cardozo go in for Jesús Zavala.
Despite los Rayados efforts to break through, Cruz Azul held strong in the back and put forth a defensive clinic, sweeping away each and every effort from the home side.
With Monterrey completely devoted to attacking, Cruz Azul boss Enrique Meza took out star striker Javier Orozco and subbed in midfielder Gonzalo Pineda to give the team a bit more presence and possession in the midfield.
Vucetich responded by subbing out former FC Dallas center back Duilio Davino to insert another attacker, Osvaldo Martínez, in a move that ultimately paid off.
In the 78th minute, the tide would turn in favor of the visitors. As a cross sailed into the Cruz Azul box, Martínez hit the turf after apparently being nudged by defender Waldo Ponce. The referee didn’t hesitate, called the penalty kick, and gave Ponce his second yellow card.
Suazo stepped up and snuck the ball past Corona’s fingertips and into the net.
Cruz Azul then launched into the attack to tie things up and came close in the 86th minute, when Villa found the ball in the box. However, Orozco came up huge and pushed the ball out for a corner.
Monterrey will now face Real Salt Lake, who beat Costa Rica’s Saprissa with an aggregate 3-2 score, in the final. Each side will be looking for their first Champions League title.
The first leg of the series will be played in Monterrey on April 20, while the second match will take place in Salt Lake on April 27.
Cruz Azul – César Villaluz, 23’
Monterrey – Humberto Suazo, 81’
Cruz Azul — Jesús Corona, Julio Dominguez, Horacio Cervantes, Waldo Ponce, Fausto Pinto, Gerardo Torrado, César Villaluz (Javier Aquino, 79’), Christian Giménez, Hugo Droguett, Emanuel Villa, Javier Orozco (Gonzalo Pineda, 62’)
Monterrey — Jonathan Orozco, Sergio Pérez, Duilio Davino (Osvaldo Martínez, 70’), José María Basanta, Ricardo Osorio, Luis Ernesto Pérez, Jesús Zavala (Neri Cardozo, 34’), Sergio Santana, Walter Ayoví, Aldo de Nigris, Humberto Suazo (Héctor Morales, 83’)