The most important series in Sporting Kansas City’s international history is just around the corner. On April 4 and 11, Manager Peter Vermes’ side will battle Mexican giants CF Monterrey in the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Semifinals. The second leg is slated for 8 p.m. CT on April 11 at Children’s Mercy Park, with tickets now on sale at SeatGeek.com.
In the buildup to this titanic clash, SportingKC.com is relaunching the Champions League Countdown to give readers a comprehensive look at Sporting’s semifinal opponent. This 10-part series, running from March 25 to April 3, will shed light on all things Monterrey—ranging from players to watch and recent performances to past history in the Champions League and more.
Wednesday’s edition of the Champions League Countdown began our three-day positional look at Monterrey, who boast one of the best backlines in Mexico. Spearheaded by veteran center back Nicolas Sanchez and Mexican international Miguel Layun, Rayados have conceded just during their four-game Champions League run and average less than a goal allowed per match in Liga MX.
This time around, we examine Monterrey’s crop of talented and versatile midfielders, the two-way players who add industry and bite to manager Diego Alonso’s side. The club’s midfield may not be as accomplished as its defense, but youth and dynamism abound. Let’s get to know some of the players who could feature in the middle of the pitch when Sporting and Monterrey square off a week from today at Estadio BBVA Bancomer.
Central midfielder: Jonathan Gonzalez (age: 19; Mexican international)
The California-born midfielder appears to be one of those “players who got away” from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Gonzalez represented the United States at the U-17 through U-20 level before switching allegiances in early 2018, when he picked up his first senior cap at the age of 18. Now 19 years old, the deep-lying midfielder is technically proficient, lacks no energy and has already logged more than 60 appearances for Monterrey.
Central midfielder: Carlos Rodriguez (age: 22; Mexican international)
Rodriguez debuted for the Mexican national team last Friday, starting as a left midfielder in a 3-1 friendly victory over Chile. The emerging player has started nine of 11 Liga MX matches this season and leads Rayados with five assists in all competitions, including one in the Champions League. Rodriguez is a product of Monterrey’s academy and appears well on his way to becoming a long-term staple of the team.
Attacking midfielder: Maximiliano Meza (age 26; Argentine international)
Meza was Monterrey’s biggest signing ahead of the 2019 Clausura, arriving from Independiente in his native Argentina. The 26-year-old is somewhat of a late bloomer, having broken into the Argentine national team last year just in time to feature at the World Cup in Russia. Meza has scored twice in seven Liga MX starts and has a penchant for playmaking in the attacking half.
Attacking midfielder: Aviles Hurtado (age 31; Colombian international)
The 31-year-old Hurtado can be deployed as an attacking midfielder, winger or forward. He patrolled left midfield in Monterrey’s 3-0 first-leg win over Atlanta earlier this month before starting as a forward in the return leg on March 13. He is tied for the team lead with 11 shot attempts in the Champions League, and regardless of where he is stationed against Sporting, he’s a safe bet to be involved going forward.
Left midfielder: Jesus Gallardo (age: 24; Mexican international)
To be clear, we included Gallardo among Monterrey’s defenders in yesterday’s article. Part of what makes him so valuable, however, is the fact that he can compete on all three lines. Gallardo can play left back, left midfielder or left winger. His productivity for Rayados—two goals and three assists this season in all competitions—points to that versatility. If he doesn’t start at left back against Sporting, he could easily do so further up the field.
Central midfielder: Celso Ortiz (age: 30; Paraguayan international)
Ortiz has played regularly for Rayados since 2016, when he arrived from Dutch side AZ Aklmaar. With starts in eight of nine Liga MX appearances this season, Ortiz has been used as a second-half substitute in Champions League action thus far. The 12-year pro has recorded two assists in 2019 and remains an important piece to the Paraguayan national team.
Defensive midfielder: Stefan Medina (age: 26)
Capable of playing in midfield and defense, Medina is a useful depth piece for Rayados. The Colombian has assisted two goals in six Liga MX appearances this season but has yet to feature in the Champions League.