Pressure builds for Monterrey as it looks to forget ghosts of Clausura final
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Antonio Mohamed sat impatiently in front of the press. His almost ubiquitous smile was now replaced by a slight frown. The manager had been denied a third Liga MX title less than two months prior, when Victor Guzman's last-minute header gave Pachuca a sixth league championship before a stunned Monterrey home crowd.
Despite assertions all summer that he had turned the page, it was apparent that Mohamed wanted a win at home in his side's Apertura 2016 opener in order to refocus toward his updated goal of winning the title for the first time in six years.
"We didn't have the intensity that we've had at other times to recover the ball and attack," the former Tijuana manager said.
Monterrey has now won just two of its last nine official Liga MX matches, counting last season's postseason. That streak includes just one win in its last five games at home.
While there is no reason to panic in Monterrey (the team still features in the No. 2 spot of our Liga MX Power Rankings), doubts will continue to linger, especially if the team is unable to start fast under Mohamed. The current team is arguably better than last year's side, though Paraguay internationals and new signings Ivan Piris and Celso Ortiz have yet to feature.
It is a story all too familiar in Mexico, where only six managers -- Mohamed included -- have upwards of one year service time with their current clubs.
For the season opener against Puebla, injuries kept first-choice goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco from the starting XI, while Mohamed had stated that Argentine striker Rogelio Funes Mori would only be available as a substitute and that Colombian international Edwin Cardona would be eased into the first team after having rejoined the team only a week prior.
Despite those absences, Mohamed fielded a starting XI most teams in Mexico can only dream of, with Ecuador international Alexander Dominguez starting for Orozco, newly minted signing Alfonso Gonzalez taking over for Cardona and veteran striker Aldo de Nigris subbing in for Funes Mori.
Ironically, it was Funes Mori and Cardona who prevented Monterrey from beating a scrappy Puebla side that played hard from the outset. Funes Mori was unable to convert on a clear-cut chance late in the second half, and Cardona lasted only six minutes as a sub before incurring a red card for a head butt, already his third since joining Monterrey in 2015.
"He made a mistake," Mohamed said after the game. "I haven't talked to him yet. It's a bad idea to do it right after a game, when your [heart] palpitations are still pretty high," he continued. Five minutes after Cardona's red card, Alexis Canelo equalized for Puebla.
Monterrey's next three league games come against Guadalajara and Leon away and Cruz Azul at home, meaning the club will face steep opposition right off the bat. In a historically difficult environment, pressure from fans could mount early if the team drops too many points.
Add that to the significant investment that the team has made in signing players, and the continued success of local rival Tigres in the six years since Monterrey's last title, and a potential doomsday scenario could quickly befall Mohamed in the second semester of 2016 if his results don't satisfy expectations.
If that indeed comes to pass, his ubiquitous smile could be replaced by a different, more somber type of consistency at the press pulpit.