Monterrey put title ghosts to rest with Copa MX final win over Pachuca
When looking back at what happened in the 2017 Clausura and 2017 Apertura, Monterrey's prolificness will be remembered. The club picked up a total of 64 points in the two regular seasons combined. In 34 regular season matches, Antonio "Turco" Mohamed's men won 18, and only lost six, but fell short of winning the league.
Heading into Thursday's night Copa MX final against Pachuca, who finished third in the FIFA Club World Cup, Monterrey was in desperate need of ending the year with some silverware.
And the club achieved its goal, beating Pachuca 1-0 in a game where it showcased why, in the Apertura particularly, it was able to cruise its way to the final until Tigres shredded its aspirations.
"I think this [cup] is going to help us start a new chapter, that I hope will end with another final victory," said captain Jose Maria Basanta, as the team celebrated on the field. "I think tonight's win will encourage us to come back in January strong, so we can reach another final in May."
Rogelio Funes Mori, who finished with 26 goals in league and cup games in 2017, also said something along those lines, describing the cup win as a "starting point" for what's to come.
The victory was a significant one for Monterrey because before its win over Pachuca, its fanbase had already witnessed two league collapses -- having to watch the opposing side celebrating a title on its home ground. The third time was the charm for Mohamed's team.
For Pachuca, the last half of 2017 can be described as accidental. Although Los Tuzos did well at the Club World Cup after defeating Al Jazira 4-1, there was never a point between June and December where the team showed substantial capacity to compete against Liga MX's best sides.
In the 2017 Apertura regular season, Pachuca beat teams like Tigres and Morelia, but it lost to clubs like Queretaro and Pumas. The last six months have been filled with ups and downs, and to a certain extent it was surprising to see Pachuca competing until the very end in the cup final against Monterrey.
Pachuca manager Diego Alonso highlighted in the postmatch news conference that it was only a defensive error that separated Pachuca and Monterrey in an even, hard-fought match, but his interpretation might have been a bit off since Pachuca only took one shot on goal, while Monterrey had four and looked in command of the match throughout.
Pachuca's double substitution in the 65th minute, where 17-year-old Roberto de la Rosa and 18-year-old Erick Sanchez took the field for Erick Aguirre and Franco Jara, best illustrated the club's state. It's a team that's searching for a new beginning and, with Alonso in charge, it will not be afraid to grow alongside players brought up in its successful academy.
However in order for de la Rosa and Sanchez to progress they will need the team's experienced block to be more consistent and not have such an erratic season.
The only goal of the final came in the 56th minute, thanks to Aviles Hurtado's skilful movement inside the box to escape Omar Gonzalez's marking. After missing a penalty in the second-leg of the Final Regia against Tigres, Hurtado -- who scored 16 goals in league and cup this season -- needed to reignite his romance with the Rayado crowd, and his winner helped his cause.
"The wound is still open, and it will be that way for a long time," said Hurtado as he reflected on his first season with Monterrey. "But we're professionals. That's football. We got to accept the loss and congratulate Tigres for their victory, but now we have to enjoy this cup success and think about what's next."
A team like Monterrey, who is likely to keep many of the same players from the Apertura, will continue to be at the top of the league table but next season Mohamed will add Jonathan Urretaviscaya, who was Pachuca's best player at the Club World Cup, to his already formidable squad. The transfer will surely help Monterrey on the pitch, and the obsession to lift its fifth league title will only get bigger.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.