Mohamed's Monterrey emerges as Liga MX title contender

The manager could win a third title with a third team if Los Rayados can continue their strong start, writes Jon Arnold.

Monterrey spoiled a lot of dinners Sunday. On the night when most Liga MX managers and players are eating with their loved ones, some just returning from long road trips, they saw something they didn't want to see.

The images of Antonio Mohamed guiding a Monterrey side to an impressive 3-1 victory over Puebla were enough to churn the stomachs of his rivals. Mohamed has worked his magic before, taking Tijuana and Club America to titles. It was in his second tournament in charge of America that he won his second title in the league. Now, in his second full tournament with Monterrey, he could win his third.

We've only seen two weeks of matches in the young Clausura, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Mohamed's men have what it takes to return to the postseason and challenge for the crown. The primary reason might be the manager himself.

His goal scorers Sunday provide more evidence that this team is for real. After netting Los Rayados' lone goal in week one's victory against Pumas, Rogelio Funes Mori was on the mark again this round. It was a match that would have been easy to dismiss as a lost cause after Puebla went up early thanks to a poor clearance. But the Argentine popped up just before the halftime whistle with an excellent finish across his body, making something from nothing to give a boost before the break.

 

G⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽L de Club de Futbol Monterrey. Antes de culminar la primera parte Rogelio Funes Mori saca disparo cruzado dentro del área para lograr así el empate 1-1 ante Puebla F.C#J2CL2016 LIGA Bancomer MX ⚽⚽ #SienteTuLiga ⚽⚽

Posted by LIGA Bancomer MX on Sunday, January 17, 2016

And against the team he played with in his last stop in Mexican soccer, Carlos Sanchez made the difference. The Uruguayan international joined Monterrey from River Plate during the offseason and scored from a corner kick in the 70th minute to put the visitors up, then extended the lead when he got on the end of a good through ball and lifted his shot past the Puebla goalkeeper.

 

G⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽⚽L de Club de Futbol Monterrey. Nuevamente Carlos Sánchez se hace presente ante las redes enemigas, pues dentro del área define para poner el 1-3 ante Puebla F.C.#J2CL2016 LIGA Bancomer MX ⚽⚽ #SienteTuLiga ⚽⚽

Posted by LIGA Bancomer MX on Sunday, January 17, 2016

The reinforcements coming into the club made the difference (Funes Mori signed on in the summer), and it makes plenty of sense that the club would want to reload. Monterrey is owned by beverage and convenience store giant FEMSA, and like Monterrey fans it hasn't been easy for the ownership to watch cross-town rival Tigres celebrate the 2015 Apertura title. That was supposed to be Monterrey's title, with the team hoping to christen a new stadium with a championship. Instead, they missed the postseason and watched as forward Andre-Pierre Gignac and manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti won a trophy.

There's a long way to go in this campaign, but missing the Liguilla doesn't seem too likely for Monterrey this time around. There could be issues in the back. Mohamed is known for his attacking style of play, and you'd expect Monterrey to give up a few goals this season. Goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco is out with an injury, though Luis Cardenas has done well in his absence and the No. 1 is expected to play this week in the cup, and left back Edgar Castillo missed the win against Puebla after leaving Wednesday's training with an ankle or foot issue. Oft-injured defender Hiram Mier is again facing time out after suffering a problem before the season.

Star 18-year-old Cesar Montes also came up with an injury, leaving Sunday's match in the 58th minute. But Mohamed has attempted to reinforce at the back as well, bringing in Miguel Herrera on loan and signing Walter Ayovi from Dorados. Herrera came on late Sunday to help see out the victory while Ayovi, who can play in the back or in midfield, has logged the full 90 in both contests.

It's clear Monterrey and Mohamed are serious about trying to win a title. After two weeks, it's clear they're a serious contender.

All Liga MX Round 2's results

Quickly Taken

  • It's tough to say if Cruz Azul and Chivas, who played out to a 1-1 draw Saturday, are back among the ranks of contenders or were simply on each other's level. There were moments of hope for both sides. Tono Rodriguez was excellent in Chivas' goal, and new additions Carlos "Gullit" Pena and Orbelin Pineda again played well, though Pineda's giveaway helped Cruz Azul to its goal. For the host, forward Jorge Benitez showed flashes of the player Tomas Boy hopes he can become. Once La Maquina gets running at full strength, it could produce a much better product — but perhaps not. It's still too early to tell.
     
  • Ismael Sosa scored Pumas' first two goals and changed fields with an excellent ball in the buildup to the team's second, as the Apertura runner-up beat Toluca, 3-2. For as many goals as he's scored and set up, it's remarkable how little attention Sosa gets. The club signed him to a three-year extension during the offseason and will get its money's worth if he continues to put in shifts like the one he did Sunday.
     
  • Heading into the weekend, the pressure was on America manager Ignacio "Nacho" Ambriz. Heading out of it, it's safe to say he's breathing a little easier. America went to Guadalajara and topped Atlas, 3-0.

    "We still don't have the level that we want," Ambriz said in a news conference after the match. "We had a good match against a team that's well-managed by [Gustavo] Costas. It came and went, they got into our area in the second half, but the team was well positioned to be able to defend well." The manager will be smiling for a few moments, but needs a run of continued good form to really find job security.
     

  • "My actions the day of the match are inexcusable," Veracruz owner Fidel Kuri Grajales began his apology letter. The Tiburones Rojos chief accosted referee assessor Edgardo Codesal and then got into a physical confrontation when Codesal looked to keep his cool.

    The incident, which occurred in the press box after what was admittedly a harsh sending off for Veracruz forward Daniel "Keko" Villalva, was captured live by the television cameras. The league's officials protested the owner's behavior, which has no place in any part of society, much less in a sport. Kuri's apology seems sincere enough, but the league can stand up for its officials by handing down a lengthy suspension anyway.