Sat, Jan 08, 2011 - Page 18 News List

FEATURE: Monterrey’s success takes fans’ minds off violence

AP, MONTERREY, MEXICO

Monterrey’s Humberto Suazo celebrates scoring his second goal against Santos during their match at the Tecnologico in Monterrey, Mexico, on Dec. 5.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Monterrey’s soccer team remains a source of pride in a city patrolled by heavily armed soldiers trying to fight off drug violence and warring cartels.

The club, nicknamed Rayados, begin their defense of the Mexican championship today, hoping to win a third national title in the space of 18 months.

Nestled in the northeast corner of Mexico, about 200km from the border with Texas, Monterrey used to be renowned as an industrial hub, earning the Fortune magazine tag as the top place to do business in Latin America in 1999.

Nowadays, the headlines are grimmer.

A week before the new season begins, the half-naked body of a woman was hung by the neck from an overpass on a busy downtown road. Last year, two town mayors in the Monterrey area were assassinated, while cartel-inspired roadblocks, shootouts between soldiers and gunmen, and killings of police officers have become commonplace.

All the violence has put the pleasure of boasting a successful soccer team into context.

“The title win gave a lot of joy to the people, but it won’t stop the murders or the grenade attacks or the shootouts,” said Mario Velazquez Arro, a Rayados fan who lives a few streets from the stadium and has attended matches for almost 20 years. “The team gave a bit of pride back to the city, but I’m sure the cartels don’t care.”

Velazquez Arro said he returns home straight after matches nowadays. The climate of insecurity means citizens increasingly avoid staying out at night.

State trooper Juan Garcia helped patrol the Tecnologico, Rayados’ stadium, for the title-winning match against Santos Laguna last month.

“The stadium was packed full,” Garcia said. “It was a major operation because of the insecurity and because so many people were on the streets, but fortunately nothing happened. People were able to forget the violence for a while and enjoy the party.”

However, just as the club has enjoyed increasing success on the field, competing drug cartels have mounted a different kind of turf war on the city’s streets.

Rayados spokesman Everardo Valdez said the club gives advice on personal security to players and staff, particularly those who come from different countries.

“The thing is to be prudent about avoiding certain areas of the city at certain times and perhaps keeping a slightly lower profile,” Valdez said.

The morale boost the club has received could continue into this year’s Clausura.

The Rayados attack is led by Chile international Humberto Suazo, who seems likely to stay with the club despite interest from European sides. Suazo, 29, scored 15 times in last year’s Apertura after returning to Monterrey following a loan spell with Real Zaragoza in Spain.

Strike partner Aldo De Nigris works as a target to earn space for the Chilean, while Ecuador’s Walter Ayovi and Argentina’s Neri Cardozo provide creativity from deeper areas. Behind them, experienced Mexico international Luis Perez links the play with his passing and positional sense.

All those key performers will return for the Clausura.

On the bench, the team also boasts Victor Manuel Vucetich — a coach known as “King Midas” for his ability to win titles.

Vucetich has won all seven top-level finals he has contested in Mexican soccer during a 20-year career — including two league championships with Monterrey.

Other reasons for optimism include the mediocrity of Rayados’ main competitors.

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