SAN JOSE, CA – For most Vancouver Whitecaps FC players, Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal vs. Tigres UANL in Monterrey, Mexico will be an entirely new experience.
Not for Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, however.
Both of them have played in Mexico – and Monterrey, in particular – before as a members of Seattle Sounders FC. So they know exactly what the ‘Caps will be getting into when they step foot into the 41,650-seat Estadio Universitario in just a few days’ time.
Here’s a hint: they both used the word “crazy.”
“The fans are very passionate,” Rosales told whitecapsfc.com. “I used to play in that kind of atmosphere in Argentina. It’s very similar to what we faced every week in Argentina. But for an MLS team, having that pressure, having that intensity of play, was a great experience for everybody.”
One of the reasons Carl Robinson brought Rosales back to the club was for his experience.
The 36-year-old has been there and done it all. Unfortunately, he is Cup-tied to Dallas for this year’s CONCACAF Champions League so he won’t be eligible to play on Tuesday, but he’ll certainly be sharing a few words of wisdom.
Rosales, in fact, was part of the Sounders team that upset Tigres in the quarterfinals of the 2012-13 Champions League after holding their own in a 1-0 loss down in Monterrey.
“You have to be 100 per cent focused, 100 per cent motivated, and aware of everything,” he said. “Respect the team, but don’t wait for something coming from the sky. You have to work hard, be very focused, very concentrated, and try to play your best game. And by playing your best game, you make it difficult for them to beat you.”
Easier said than done.
Playing down in Mexico has been a nightmare for Major League Soccer teams in the past – and that’s putting it kindly. Their record: 2W-42L-8D. Yes, that’s two wins out of 52 games.
Interestingly, Seattle was one of the teams that won when they beat C.F. Monterrey in 2011; however, the Sounders fielded more of a reserve side so Montero and Rosales did not make the trip. That was the outlier.
This is a David vs. Goliath showdown. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
“It’s not easy to play against them even if you are from South America or Europe,” Rosales said. “Every player over there can play in Europe or they’ve already played there. They are quality players. They don’t have the same barrier we have with the salary cap. We cannot take anybody from outside and just give them a lot of money. They have the advantage in that perspective.”
They certainly do.
Tigres, for example, have a star-studded roster that features strikers André-Pierre Gignac, a French international who appeared in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and 2016 UEFA European Championship, and Eduardo Vargas, who led his native Chile to the 2016 Copa América Centenario title with a tournament-high six goals. That was one more than Lionel Messi.
They also have the advantage in that they’re already nine games into their season – unlike MLS teams, who have played just two.
“It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what we like,” Robinson told reporters. “Us Canadians, I say us Canadians now, that’s what we’re about. Proving people wrong. Going into the lion’s den as you call it and trying to get a result. The game is not won over one leg. It certainly can be lost. We know that. But we’re in the mix and we’ve got a chance at winning it. We need to play to our maximums and perform at our levels. Maybe if they don’t then we’ve got a chance.”
Either way, Robinson said he’s excited to see how his players respond to the challenge.
“Every day I find out something about my guys,” he said last week. “It’s easy in training sometimes. And then you judge it when there’s 35 or 40 thousand booing you and hissing every touch … now we see what we’re about.”
Certainly, the odds are heavily stacked against Whitecaps FC heading into Tuesday, but they may have a secret weapon at their disposal.
His name is Montero.
Vancouver’s new Designated Player striker has now scored a team-leading seven career goals in the CONCACAF Champions League after opening his account for Whitecaps FC in the second leg of the quarterfinals against New York Red Bulls.
He also has experience playing in the UEFA Champions League, the European version of this tournament that just so happens to be one of the most prestigious club competitions in the world.
“It’s super important,” Montero said of the Champions League. “If you don’t have the chance to play for your national team, it’s the only way you can have international competition at a high level.”
“For me, for the club, for every single player, we’re looking forward to a really good game there and then to come here and close in a big way,” he added. “Hopefully we can have a good result there to give us a chance when we come back to BC Place.”
Whitecaps FC host the decisive second leg on Wednesday, April 5 at BC Place (be a part of history and secure your tickets today).