By Gerardo Martínez Gómez
The first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League was reported as a 2-0 loss for Santos Laguna. "Los Guerreros" see it merely as being behind.
Many have speculated that as defending champion with a pattern of winning the first leg and cruising through the second that Monterrey is in position to repeat as champion.
But Santos is in a familiar position, too, having lost the first leg in both the quarterfinals and semifinals before returning home to earn a lopsided victory.
"Yes, they had a number of chances of which they took advantage," defender Ivan Estrada said about Monterrey. "Despite the fact that it was a tough game for us, we also had chances but we didn't put them away. The series is for either team.
"I think that with an early or something in our favor, we can reverse the score."
Humberto Suazo's goals in the first leg might wind up being the determining factor in most series. However, Santos' recent history of overcoming first-leg setbacks gives it confidence it can claim its first confederation championship.
It certainly isn't intimidated by first-leg deficits. After losing 2-1 at Seattle in the quarterfinals, Santos returned home to rout the Sounders 6-1 at Nuevo Corona.
Then, after losing to Toronto 1-0 at BMO Field, again it come home to Torreon to rout the Canadian club 6-2.
"In the last two return legs in the Champions League, we've scored 12 goals at home," striker Herculez Gomez said. "We are a strong team that plays strongly in its stadium due to our fans. We have to continue that way."
Additionally, Santos will get back the services of leading scorer Oribe Peralta. "El Cepillo" - who has eight goals in the Mexican Clausura -- missed the first leg to yellow-card suspension and will recombine with Gomez - who missed three games in April due to a series of injuries but appears to be fully healthy.
Each has scored six goals in the Champions League this season.
Just like the previous weekend against America, Santos manager on Saturday again rested some of his key players against Tigres. Unlike the loss to America, the Guerreros beat UANL 3-0, putting back atop the Mexican standings.
"Yes, the victory helps in that aspect. We have to be mentally strong," midfielder Juan Pablo Rodriguez said. "The team played well. It's realizing that we can do it, that we have the arguments to change the situation."
Statistically, Santos has an advantage on the offensive end, having scored more goals (34) than anybody in the Champions League this season, led by Gomez and Peralta. Monterrey has the second-most goals (24) but will be without tournament scoring leader Suazo (seven) due to yellow-card accumulation.
Defensively, Monterrery has allowed the second-fewest goals (seven). Santos has given up 17 and will be without defenders Felipe Baloy and Osmar Mares, both unavailable due to yellow cards.
Monterrey took an important step last week in its campaign to repeat as CONCACAF Champions League champion. But Santos has demonstrated twice already that it has the capacity to overcome hurdles, giving "Los Rayados" reason maintain its intensity.