Tuesday night lights: Mexican soccer giants land in McAllen as C.F. Monterrey Rayados top Cruz Azul

McALLEN — Fans in the blue and white stripes of Rayados and in the iconic blue and red of Cruz Azul were treated to an entertaining night of soccer Tuesday at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium as the two Liga MX giants played a preseason exhibition for their RGV faithful.

The game was won in the 43rd minute, when Rayados forward Dorlan Pabón hit home a low cross with a first-time strike past Guillermo Allison to build the 1-0 lead that would stand as the final.

The action was intense on the field from the start. Both teams traded chances in the first 45 minutes of play, but Cruz Azul didn’t have the finish around the box to break through.

Each side was well-represented in the crowd. Children, the elderly and everyone in between were wearing jerseys and hats, anticipating the matchup. The Mexican national team jersey was another popular outfit.

Almost an hour before the game, Guillermo Ibarra-Fernandez of Pharr was standing with a group of Cruz Azul fans, all donning jerseys and covered with a team flag like a blanket.

“It’s a pretty good thing because usually, the actual teams from primera division, which are the top teams from Mexico, don’t come here,” Ibarra-Fernandez said. “It’s exciting. You don’t have to travel. It’s convenient for everyone, and it’s Cruz Azul, so we had to be here to support our team.”

Though the Rayados’ home grounds of Monterrey is closer to the Valley than Cruz Azul’s home of Mexico City, plenty of fans in attendance Tuesday were cheering for la maquina de Cruz Azul.

“It’s about the history. It’s about everything that comes,” Ibarra-Fernandez tried to explain as a Monterrey fan shook his head to dispute. “Cruz Azul is a bigger team, that’s for sure, because of the history. We always beat them on the important games, except for one, but that’s the past. In the United States, Cruz Azul is the bigger team. That’s for sure.”

Ariel Gonzalez from Mission was wearing Monterrey colors with his wife, seated around midfield and ready for the game about an hour early.

“This is my third time seeing them,” Gonzalez, who saw Rayados last year in Edinburg and previously in Houston, said. “I think it’s awesome. It’s a testament to how much the Valley’s grown in the last several years. The fact that we have these things and all the economic development that’s been going on. It’s a way for people who maybe aren’t able to go to Mexico, especially with all the political instability that’s been going on there. It’s a way for people to enjoy a part of their culture in a safer way — a more local way, I guess you could say.”

On the pitch, both teams put on a strong effort. Neither played as if they were in an exhibition match, probably because the Liga MX Apertura season opens later this month.

The match was characterized by a slew of near misses for both sides that drew big reactions from the crowd.

Rayados had the first close chance with a header that was barely kept out in the 15th minute, then Cruz Azul threatened with a shot that just missed in the 17th.

During the second half, Allison was tested again multiple times but showed his skill with numerous saves to keep the margin at one.

Cruz Azul fizzled out as time went on. Their grade-A chances came less frequently, and Monterrey looked poised to score next. Daniel Lajud just missed a shot high to extend the lead.

In the 91st minute, in what became the team’s final chance, a Cruz Azul forward skied a shot over the crossbar.

Despite the loss, Cruz Azul fans made noise on their way out of McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium and crowded the path from the field to the locker room to try to catch a glimpse of their idols.

Rayados fans walked out with heads held high and early bragging rights on the season.

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