Promise fulfilled! Mohamed magic guides Rayados to Liga MX title in stunning finale
The manager couldn’t control his emotions after bringing the trophy back to Monterrey, something he’d promised his late son he would do
There are times when words fail.
Antonio Mohamed had been quiet this week, a relative departure from his typical self. Earlier Sunday, before his Monterrey team played the second leg of the Liga MX final against Club America, Mohamed was spotted walking into the Basilica de Guadalupe. Just one member of the team’s staff accompanied him as he moved past parishioners and a few reporters to offer up a prayer to La Virgen.
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When he was asked for his comments about the game, the Monterrey manager choose to stay silent. When Leonel Vangioni final penalty went past America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to give Monterrey the Apertura title, the Monterrey couldn’t have spoken if he wanted to.
His assistants swarmed him in celebration, but tears began to swell in his eyes, his hands together, separated only by the prayer beads he clutched.
Exactly what Mohamed was feeling, we may never know.
This was unfinished business for the Argentine manager. He won the Liga MX title with Tijuana in the 2012 Apertura. He won another with Club America in the 2014 Apertura. But the Mohamed magic ran out when he got to Monterrey. He lifted the Copa MX, but a pair of second-best finishes including a loss to Tigres in the first-ever final between the crosstown rivals made it difficult to call his time in La Sultana del Norte a success.
The hurt went far deeper than professional failure. Mohamed’s son Farid grew up rooting for Monterrey, after the spell Mohamed spent with the club as a player between 1998–2000. But Farid’s life was tragically cut short in 2006 by a car accident during the World Cup in Germany. Mohamed had made a pair of promises to his boy: That he would return to Huracan and get them back to the top division, and that he would return to Monterrey one day and win a title.
The promise now has been fulfilled, but it took a circuitous route to get there.
After his first stint coaching Monterrey, Mohamed pushed for even bigger things, heading to La Liga to take over Celta de Vigo. He didn’t excel in Spain like he had in Mexico and ended up back home with Huracan. Even that didn’t go well, and Mohamed found himself unemployed.
Rayados’ Apertura didn’t go well, either. Diego Alonso struggled to blend the team together or find a style of play that suited his players like he did so well with his Pachuca teams. After a miserable run that saw the team earn just one win in six matches, the club’s directors had enough of Alonso.
The coaching search also didn’t go well. Reports indicate the club made overtures to a number of big names, including former Chivas and current San Jose Earthquakes coach Matias Almeyda. Instead, as the search stretched on, it was a familiar face – available at the right time – coming back through the door in the form of Mohamed.
“El Turco” went to work quickly, sending players to the bench he felt weren’t right for the starting XI. The group responded to his charisma and style, with Rayados running off a five-match unbeaten run to sneak into the playoffs. They extended the unbeaten run by smashing No. 1 seed Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals and getting past Necaxa in the semis.
The Mohamed magic was back.
After two failed attempts at winning the final, however, the third time didn’t look like it would be a charm. For one, Rayados played the first leg shortly after returning from a tournament halfway across the globe, representing Concacaf in the Club World Cup. And even after winning the first leg 2-1 thanks to a stunning goal from Rogelio Funes Mori, Sunday’s second leg didn’t exactly go totally right for the visitors. America earned its “Kings of the Comeback” label this postseason by proving impossible to beat at the Estadio Azteca. This wouldn’t be the exception.
America started aggressively and were rewarded with a sixth-minute opener from Federico Vinas. Richard Sanchez doubled the advantage before the half with a thunderous shot that beat Marcelo Barvoero and sent the teams into the break at 2-0, but giving America the 3-2 aggregate lead.
Just 10 minutes before the 90 minutes expired, though, a disastrous attempted clearance from America defender Jorge Sanchez put the ball at the feet of winger Dorlan Pabon. Pabon hit a low cross to Funes Mori, whose finish was far less spectacular than the one he pulled off in the first leg but counted the same.
The match proceeded to penalties, with a sky-high shot off the mark by America midfielder Guido Rodriguez proving the difference as Monterrey converted all but one of its kicks from the spot.
You could see what it meant to Mohamed, a man who has achieved all sorts of sporting success but admits there are days when he still feels more grief than joy. Tonight, for a moment, he can smile – his words made good, his promise kept, his job well done.