The final is coming up in about 40 minutes, so I better hurry...
So after a Champions League final last year between the top Mexican side and the most competitive MLS representative CONCACAF had ever seen, and a Champions League season in which Mexican sides lost home matches for the first time, the final reverts back to a familiar type. The two finalists aren't unbeaten, like Monterrey was last season, but they have demonstrated that they are the best teams in the competition. Los Angeles might have been able to challenge that, but they never woke up against Toronto FC in the HDC, so we'll never know.
Monterrey are chasing history over the next two weeks -- no team has won the Champions League in its current format in successive seasons, and no club has won CONCACAF's highest competition two years in a row since the all-conquering Pachuca sides in 2007 and 2008. The attacking core remains intact between Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris, as well as José Basanta in central defense and Ricardo Osorio at right back, but their midfield has changed significantly from the one that took the field in Utah last year. The Rayados didn't have a good Apertura, but they are playing much more strongly in the current short tournament (4th place on 28 points).
Santos are seeking confirmation of their dominance in Mexico over the last 9 months. They have been the dominant team in Mexico this season, and they finished runner-up to UANL in the Apertura final, but in CONCACAF they have never advanced this far before. Montreal Impact fans will remember the epic comeback in injury time during the 2008-09 season, but that team fell to Atlante in the semifinal round. Some of the midfield from that season are still in the lineup for Santos, such as Daniel Ludeña and Carlos Quintero. But the impact player from this season has been Hérculez Gómez. After scoring seven goals for Estudiantes Tecos in the first half of the season, he joined Santos in January and has since scored twelve goals over all competitions. Even after playing just knockout round matches in the Champions League, he is now tied for top goalscorer. If Santos goes on to win the Champions League, and if Gómez scores a goal over the two legs, he will be given strong consideration for best player in the competition.
The first leg starts in Monterrey, and the Rayados will seek the same kind of first-leg knockout that they earned in the previous rounds. It won't happen tonight, but both matches will be closely fought. In the end it will be the goalscorers who have the final say.