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.
The next three days of the Champions League Countdown will provide a position-by-position look at Monterrey, a talented side that wields a mix of emerging talent and veteran experience with distinct Mexican and Argentine ties.
We begin with Rayados’ backline, which must be considered the club’s strong suit based on results over the last three months. In the space below, we get familiarized with goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero and a formidable crop of defenders who hope to continue their stingy ways in the semifinals at Sporting’s expense.
Goalkeeper: Marcelo Barovero (age: 35)
The 35-year-old Argentine, who has conceded just one goal in four Champions League matches this year, owns a 0.91 goals against average in 11 Liga MX matches. On loan from Necaxa, the 16-year veteran doesn’t boast tremendous size or athleticism, but his reliability between the posts has resulted in a long and prosperous career throughout Argentina and Mexico. Barovero notably recorded five straight clean sheets in all competitions from Feb. 20 to March 6, a miserly shutout streak that spanned 561 minutes.
Right back: Miguel Layun (age: 30; Mexican international)
The 30-year-old has amassed 71 caps for the Mexican national team and boasts five years of experience in Europe. After starring for Club America from 2010-2014, Layun ventured across the Atlantic for stints with Granada, Watford, Sevilla, Porto and Villarreal before joining Monterrey in January. Layun’s game is similar to that of Graham Zusi: both players are considered elite right backs in their respective leagues but also have a knack for wreaking havoc in the defensive third.
Center back: Cesar Montes (age: 22; Mexican international)
The 22-year-old Montes is one of the brighter young defenders in Mexico’s pool. He has started 13 of 14 appearances in all competitions this season and, despite his age, has already featured more than 100 times for Rayados. At 6-foot-4, the towering Montes is an undeniable threat on set pieces and a massive aerial presence.
Center back: Nicolas Sanchez (age: 33)
Get this: Sanchez ranks second on the team with six goals in 14 competitive matches this season. As a center back. Granted, Sanchez is Monterrey’s designated penalty kick taker, but it nonetheless underscores his value to a Rayados defense that has allowed less than a goal per game since the start of 2019. The 33-year-old Argentine has never earned a senior cap, but with roughly 400 club appearances to his name, Sanchez remains a dogged force and the lynchpin of Monterrey’s rearguard.
Left back: Jesus Gallardo (age: 24; Mexican international)
Gallardo is an attack-minded fullback who has a goal and three assists in 11 Liga MX appearances this season. The dynamic 24-year-old has become a national team regular, earning 33 caps for Mexico since the end of 2016, and is just as dangerous offensively as he is staunch in defense. Gallardo effectively killed off Atlanta United FC with the third goal in a 3-0 first-leg win at Estadio BBVA Bancomer on March 6.
Center back: Johan Vasquez (age: 20)
The Mexican youngster has yet to break into the starting lineup with any consistency, but he did land a start in Monterrey’s second-leg defeat at Atlanta in the quarterfinals on March 13. If Rayados go five at the back at Children’s Mercy Park on April 11—like they did in Atlanta—Vasquez is a good candidate to join Montes and Sanchez in a center back triumvirate.
Left back: Leonel Vangioni (age: 31)
The Argentine veteran, who plied his trade for AC Milan from 2016-2017 before joining Rayados, has started eight of nine Liga MX appearances this season. If he gets the nod at left back, expect Gallardo to push up into a more attacking role on the left wing.