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By Gerardo Martínez Gómez

If any team should be considered a favorite to win the CONCACAF Champions League heading into the quarterfinals, it may as well be defending champion Monterrey.

With one of the deepest rosters in the Mexican first division, a fervent fan base and a form that has it only two points off the Clausura lead, Monterrey warrants at least the attention of the odds makers.

The surge by the Rayados has come despite a tumultuous start to the year.

After a quarterfinal exit on penalties to Japenese side Kashiwa Reysol at the Club World Cup in December, Chilean striker and leading scorer Humberto Suazo requested but was refused a transfer, relegating him to training with the club's youth sides.

His absence during the pre-season and first four games of the season contributed to an inconsistent offense - and resulted in two draws and a loss.

But "Chupete" and management reconciled, he returned to the lineup, and with the 30-year-old forward back in the fold, the club has won its past two games over San Luis and Chivas by a combined 5-0.

Additionally, the club has added promising 22-year-old forward Othoniel Arce, a member of Mexico's Pan Am Games championship side acquired from San Luis, and 27-year-old midfielder Angel Reyna, who is looking to continue the form that made him last year's Clausura scoring champion at America.

Reyna, who was forced to leave America after critical public comments of his teammates, scored the second goal in last week's 2-0 win over Chivas.

Arce, too, has opened his Monterrey account, and both appear to be making themselves a key component of the squad with three weeks remaining before the first leg of the quarterfinals against fellow Mexican side Morelia.

The team coached by Victor Manuel Vucetich did lose several players, including versatile attacker Sergio Santana, who moved to Atlas. Marvin Piñón signed with Correcaminos in the second division, and Luis Rodriguez and William Paredes went to San Luis.

With Suazo back with the team, Antonio De Nigris healthy again and a wealth of talent such as Neri Cardozo, Walter Ayovi, Jose Maria Basanta, Hiram Mier and Jonathan Orozco, Monterrey appears to be ready to defend its CONCACAF crown and get another chance at the Club World Cup.