Real Salt Lake to face Monterrey in final

[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Monterrey thwarted the bid of Cruz Azul to play in a third straight Concacaf Champions League final by battling Los Cementeros to a 1-1 tie in the second leg of their semifinal series Wednesday and prevailing on aggregate, 3-2.

Humberto Suazo’s penalty kick in the 81st minute at Estadio Azul canceled out a first-half goal by Cruz Azul’s Cesar Villaluz and enabled Monterrey to regain the one-goal edge it held from the first leg. The foul that provided the penalty kick also took defender Waldo Ponce off the field for a second caution, and with 10 men, Cruz Azul launched several promising attacks without success.

Keeper Jonathan Orozco lunged to get a fingertip on Emmanuel Villa’s close-range shot and guide it around the post in the 86th minute to snuff out Cruz Azul’s best chance. Had the goal gone in and the score been 2-1 after 90 minutes, the teams would have played overtime. Instead, Monterrey becomes the fourth Mexican team to reach the final in the three competitions held under the Champions League (formerly Champions Cup) format.

In two weeks, Monterrey will host Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the final, with the return match to be played at Rio Tinto Stadium a week later. RSL also prevailed, 3-2, on aggregate following its 2-1 loss to Deportivo Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica Tuesday night. The final winner heads to Japan in December to play the other winners of regional club competitions in the World Club Cup.

(Until yesterday, the Concacaf Web site listed the dates of the final legs as April 19 and 26. A memo sent out today confirmed reports from other outlets that the games will be played April 20 and 27, though a Fox Soccer Channel graphic posted during the Monterrey-Cruz Azul broadcast stated the first leg at Estadio Technologico would be played April 19.)

Villa nearly scored twice in the opening quarter of an hour as Cruz Azul pressed into the Monterrey goalmouth. He missed the far post from outside the penalty area in the opening minutes and curled a free kick over the bar before getting to the rebound of a saved Hugo Droguett shot in the 24th minute and pounding it past Orozco.

A vital second goal, however, never came. With the aggregate tied, 2-2, Cruz Azul held the advantage in away goals. In the minutes leading up to the penalty kick Orozco saved a low shot from Villa and Neri Cardoza shot over the crossbar. Those misses were punished when referee Francisco Chacon ruled that Ponce had committed a pushing foul in the box, and Suazo hit a hard, low penalty that keeper Jose De Jesus Corona stretched for and just failed to reach.

Play was briefly suspended when a bank of lights at one end of the field went dark. The conditions were deemed acceptable and play resumed without further incident.

Cruz Azul had lost to Mexican rivals Atlante and Pachuca past two finals. RSL is bidding to be the first non-Mexican team to represent Concacaf in the World Club Cup since Deportivo Saprissa finished third in 2005.

Concacaf Champions League
Semifinals, second leg

Cruz Azul 1, Monterrey 1 (agg.: 2-3).
Goals: Villaluz 24; Suazo (penalty kick) 81.
Cruz Azul –  Corona, Pinto, Dominguez, Cervantes, Ponce, J. Orozco (Pineda, 63), Torrado, Villaluz (Aquino, 79), Giminez, Droguett, Villa.
Monterrey – J. Orozco, Basanta, S. Perez, Davino (O. Martinez, 70), Osorio, L. Perez, Zavala (Cardozo, 34), Ayovi, Suazo (Morales, 83), Santana, De Nigris.
Referee: Francisco Chacon.
Att.: 37,000.

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