FOX Soccer Exclusive
Santos Laguna remains unfazed by task
When Humberto Suazo danced through the Santos Laguna defense and scored a vital second goal late in last week’s CONCACAF Champions League Final first leg, the highlight-reel finish turned Santos Laguna’s task in the return leg from manageable to extremely difficult.
Santos must find a way to erase a 2-0 deficit against a tough Monterrey side Wednesday night. As tough a task as it may first appear, Santos heads into Wednesday’s second leg confident that their outstanding home form and home crowd will carry them through.
Any concerns about the Santos Laguna’s confidence were eased by the team’s convincing 3-0 victory against Tigres over the weekend. The win helped Santos move back into first place in the Mexican League.
“We responded well and I feel like we have our swagger back heading into the second leg,” Santos Laguna striker Herculez Gomez told FOX Soccer.
“It was a tough loss in the first leg, but there’s no point in dwelling on what we should have or could have done. Give them credit, they played a good tactical game and made us pay for our mistakes.”
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Monterrey will head into the second leg without Suazo, who is serving a suspension for yellow-card accumulation. The Chilean striker scored both Monterrey goals, but a potentially bigger absence for Monterrey is starting defender Hiram Mier, who left the team’s weekend’s 1-1 draw versus Pachuca with an injury.
Santos has the tough task of having to win by three goals to secure the club’s first CONCACAF championship. That may seem like a difficult challenge, but the team has recorded blowout victories in the past two home legs of the Champions League. The difference this time around, however, is that Santos must do it against the defending CONCACAF Champions League title holders rather than teams like the Seattle Sounders or Toronto FC.
As good a team as Monterrey is, they have been vulnerable on the road this year, posting a 1-3-3 road record in Mexican League. Santos has been dominant at home this season, boasting an 8-0-3 record in all competitions, having outscored their opponents 30-9.
Santos has clearly been a different team in Torreon than on the road, and will be banking on the support of a home crowd eager to see their team finally win a major trophy after coming close many times before.
“It’s more than a final to these people,” Gomez said. “It’s Monterrey, and the pressure is built up a bit after losing in finals before. The fans really are trying to show us that they are behind us for this final. Come game time I expect it to be a special night.”
For Gomez, the final will mark another major event in a career that has plenty of them. From the 2010 World Cup, to a Club World Cup, to an MLS Cup and a Copa America, Gomez has played in big matches before, and he believes this Santos team is capable of handling the pressure of Wednesday’s second leg.
“I don’t think this game is too big for anybody on my team,” Gomez said.
“This game has the potential to be something great. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re confident we can get the job done.”
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.