By Dylan Butler
Humberto Suazo has been the hero of the CONCACAF Champions League - leading the tournament with seven goals, including the two that has Monterrey ahead going into final leg of the finals against Santos.
However, the Chilean striker will miss Wednesday's finale at Estadio Nuevo Corona in Torreon due to a one-game suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards.
"He is an important player for us and makes a difference," Monterrey forward Jesus Zavala told the Associated Press. "But we hope whoever fills in will give a top effort."
That person could be Abraham Carreno, but Monterrey coach Victor Manuel Vucetich isn't giving any advanced indication with his team 90 minutes from claiming another title.
Los Rayados are trying to become the first squad to win consecutive CONCACAF Champions League titles, and the first to win back-to-back confederation crowns since Pachuca won in 2007 and 2008.
The title also would give Monterrey a chance to dispel the memory of December's trip to the Club World Cup, where it lost to Japan's Kashiwa Reysol on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals before beating Esperance from Tunisia 3-2 in the fifth-place match.
"It's always good to be in a final, and even better when you think the winner goes to the Club World Cup," Zavala said. "We'll be out there to win and return home with the championship."
Monterrey, which has won 17 of its 23 matches in the Champions League, has won only two of its last five matches overall, including a 1-1 draw with Pumas on Saturday that dropped it to fifth in the Mexican Clausura. And Monterrey is aware of knows of Santos record at home, like an 11-game unbeaten streak at Estadio Corona including eight wins.
"It is an important advantage, but nothing is certain," Zavala said referring to Monterrey's first-leg victory. "It's a deceiving score and we know Santos has top players who will be giving it their all."
Santos will no doubt be encouraged by not only the return of leading scorer Oribe Peralta, who missed the first leg because of a yellow card suspension, but its domestic form, as well. It climbed back atop the Mexican Clausura with one round remaining following a 3-0 victory against Tigres on Saturday.
However, Santos will be without defenders Felipe Baloy and Osmar Mares, also suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
Besides its formidability at home, "Los Guerreros" are also not unaccustomed to having to overcome first-leg deficits. Trailing 2-1 against Seattle Sounders FC in the quarterfinals, Santos scored six at for a comfortable 7-3 aggregate victory. Two weeks later it again left BMO Field in Toronto trailing 1-0, but Santos once more rallied for a 6-2 rout at home.
"We are a tough team at home," said Santos forward Herculez Gomez, who along with Peralta has scored 12 of Santos' 34 Champions League goals. "We have to continue that way."