Monterrey, Tigres threatening to make Liga MX a two-horse race
It's actually hard to believe this is the first time both Monterrey teams will face off in a Liga MX final.
In some ways, both teams have been on a collision course for quite some time. Since Los Rayados picked up two titles in 2009 and 2010, their city rivals reacted by giving free rein to Brazilian manager Ricardo Ferretti, who received ample financial backing from Tigres' board. Under contract for seven years now, Ferretti has delivered the goods, winning three titles and making six league finals since his tenure began.
Rayados haven't exactly fallen behind, either. This is the fifth consecutive instance in which one of the two squads have made it all the way to the end, with Tigres linking back-to-back-to-back berths. Since 2011, Monterrey manager Antonio Mohamed has won two titles, though neither has been with his current club.
The war at the top, predictably, has been fueled by cash. Both clubs have financial backing from their supremely wealthy corporate owners. In recent years, it's mostly been the two teams from Monterrey making the largest splashes on the transfer market: When Tigres signed French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, Monterrey answered by bringing in former Benfica man Rogelio Funes Mori. Both have combined for over 100 league goals since 2015.
Recent salvos have meant more offensive firepower arriving. Tigres brought former West Ham man Enner Valencia, with Rayados signing former Tijuana forward and current Colombia national teamer Aviles Hurtado to compete.
In fact, the financial gap between Monterrey, Tigres and the rest of the league is starting to mirror what happens in top European leagues. According to Transfermarkt, the two teams from Monterrey have the highest market value in Liga MX, with Tigres' squad worth €71.5 million, and Rayados second at €44.6 million. The next three teams on the list -- Tijuana, Pachuca and Chivas -- didn't even make the playoffs.
Other teams within Liga MX have wealthy corporate backing as well, but Monterrey and Tigres have been adept at spending their money wisely, rarely missing on signings. Or, better yet, buying up copious amounts of talent in order to outspend their own mistakes. While traditionally rich teams like America have whiffed on recent signings -- Cecilio Dominguez, Silvio Romero and Guido Rodriguez are all prime examples -- both Monterrey squads have been right on when purchasing new players.
Rayados' additions have been especially notable of late, as Mohamed brought in players including full-back Leonel Vangioni from AC Milan, and midfielder Celso Ortiz from AZ Alkmaar. The roster is so stacked that Monterrey has Paraguay international Jorge Benitez and former Inter Milan goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo on the bench.
Not to be outdone, it seems nearly every incoming transfer to Liga MX involves Tigres in some way. The club has more than 30 players out on loan, including Colombian striker Julian Quinones, who scored nine goals in 13 games for Lobos BUAP this season, and Peruvian full-back Luis Advincula, a pillar of his national team's dramatic qualification to Russia 2018.
It is, however, unfair to say money has bought them all of their success. Managerial stability, a luxury seemingly no one has heard in Liga MX, has been a staple of both teams since their respective golden eras began.
Victor Manuel Vucetich guided Rayados to league and international success between 2009 and 2013, ending his tenure with two Liga MX titles and three CONCACAF Champions' League wins. After a turbulent two years, Mohamed has now steered the team back to constancy in his two years at the helm.
Across town, Tigres can tout their massive commitment to Ferretti, who is under contract until 2020. By the time his deal expires, he'll have coached the Monterrey squad for an entire decade, a nearly unheard of concept within Liga MX.
Finally, the infrastructure for both squads threatens to set both teams up for the conceivable future. After Rayados opened their first-tier stadium, Estadio BBVA Bancomer to the public in 2015, their city rivals responded in kind. The purported new stadium for Tigres would move them out of their 50-year-old building into a modern, 80,000-seat behemoth.
The combination of recent success, deep pockets and stability at the top likely means both teams will have an extended run at the top, unless other teams are willing to make a similar commitment. Though other teams have shown they can compete (Pachuca and Chivas have beaten both Monterrey squads in finals since 2016), it's increasingly clear the Mexican league is on the precipice of becoming a two-team competition.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.