A surprising Liga MX Apertura 2018 may be a tough act to follow after a few key departures for Los Guerreros.
Entering the Liga MX Apertura, Santos Laguna was the defending champ but lost a number of top players. Then, only a few weeks into the season, they parted ways with their championship-winning coach Roberto Siboldi, with the coach resigning after an incident with a player. Despite it all, Santos Laguna managed to be one of the most consistently good teams in the regular season. Led by Julio Furch and Jona Rodriguez in attack and having a solid defense playing behind them, Los Guerreros entered La Liguilla in 4th without being shutout once in the 17 regular season matches.
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Santos would exit La Liguilla after the first round, unable to get a single goal past Monterrey and losing 3-0 on aggregate. Furch, who had been phenomenal all season long with 12 goals on nearly a goal every two shots was unable to replicate his regular season form. He didn’t get much help offensively, though, so the blame hardly falls solely on him.
He’ll need to find that form again in the Clausura, though. Gone is his partner and fellow top-5 goal-scorer, Jona Rodriguez, after the Uruguayan moved to Cruz Azul on a transfer. Also moving on are midfielders Osvaldo Martinez, who started 18 matches for Los Guerreros, and Jesus Isijara, who started in 11 matches. Again, the Santos that comes out onto the field for their Clausura-opener against Lobos BUAP will look fairly different from the previous season.
They didn’t lose players without replacing them, though. Diego Valdez comes over from Monarcas Morelia, along with Bryan Garnica from Atlas, Hugo Rodriguez from Puebla and Javier Correa from Argentina club Colon. Valdes should provide a good replacement for Jona Rodriguez but it remains to be seen what the others will provide.
Still in-tact is the back-line that includes Jesus Angulo, Jose Abella, Hugo Nervo, Gerardo Arteaga and Doria. Jonathan Orozco was possibly Santos Laguna’s best player in La Liguilla in the goalkeeper position. He returns with young Carlos Acevedo waiting in the wings, having a couple very nice showings under his belt, as well.
It looks as though they’ll rely on being solid defensively and see if Furch, Valdes, Brian Lozano, and Ayrton Preciado can muster up enough offense to propel them forward. That should be good enough to make La Liguilla, but they might be left with a similar result as before, when they couldn’t find the offense to break down an equally defensive-minded opponent.
I would predict that Santos would end up in the 6th-to-8th range of the table, which given the turnover they seem to have in their roster, is giving them a lot of credit for being one of the better clubs in Mexico.