This was the game they had to have, but they came up short again.
Monterrey, who visit Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final on Wednesday, could only muster a 1-1 home tie on Saturday in league play against Puebla, who entered the match losers of seven straight on the road.
The result stretched Monterrey’s winless streak to seven in a row in all competitions, including six draws. It was only last Wednesday that RSL held them to a tie in the first leg of the CCL finals, as Javier Morales netted a dramatic 89th-minute goal for the 2-2 result.
Manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich dusted off his quote sheet against RSL and emerged with the same lines after the Puebla match.
“We created a lot of scoring opportunities,” he said in Saturday’s post-game press conference. "They get a lucky goal, but my team did its work over the 90 minutes."
It turns out the three injury substitutions made by Monterrey in midweek were serious enough to keep the players out of the league matchup against Puebla. Luis Ernesto Pérez, Aldo de Nigris and Sergio Santana were all unavailable to Vucetich.
[inline_node:334415]Pérez (right thigh strain) and de Nigris (at right, left hamstring tear) were diagnosed on Friday to miss three to four weeks of action recovering from their respective injuries, which rules them out for the Champions League decider.
Santana (right hamstring strain) and former MLS defender Duilio Davino (throat infection) were also unavailable on Saturday, but it is uncertain whether they will be back into the lineup by Wednesday.
Reports criticized Monterrey for exhibiting few clear ideas in attack and a slow, tired pace to their game against Puebla. Chilean superstar Humberto “Chupete” Suazo was a particular target of the media, which indicated he once again looked out of rhythm throughout his 90-minute effort.
It gets better for RSL fans. Los Rayados gave up Puebla’s goal after just six minutes following a poor clearance by center back Héctor Morales, who is expected to fill in at central midfield for Pérez against RSL. Puebla nearly got the winner with 10 minutes remaining when they struck the crossbar.
The Monterrey goal came off a play reminiscent of their first strike against RSL at the Estadio Tecnológico last week. A deep run and cross by a fullback, this time by left back William Paredes, opened a clear shot on goal by Jesús Zavala. Zavala is suspended for the match Wednesday thanks to yellow-card accumulation.
The draw against Puebla now forces Monterrey to defeat Chivas de Guadalajara in the final weekend of the Mexican Clausura regular season to make the Mexican playoffs.
“To lose faith would be the worst thing because everything still depends on us,” Vucetich said on Saturday. “The Champions League is within reach. We have the necessary confidence and [of winning the title].”
MONTERREY LINEUP vs. PUEBLA (right to left): Jonathan Orozco -- Severo Meza (57’ Sergio Perez), Héctor Morales, José María Basanta, William Paredes (72’ Hiram Mier) -- Jesús Arellano (61’ Neri Cardozo), Jesús Zavala, Walter Ayoví, Osvaldo Martínez -- Abraham Carreño, Humberto Suazo.