The Rayos must find offensive consistency if they hope to challenge the league-leading Guerreros.
For the second season in a row, Necaxa has undergone a near-complete roster overhaul. The players are still introducing themselves to each other and it shows on the field. There have been some promising signs (striker Maximiliano Salas, in particular), but communication issues have really hurt the Rayos.
It will likely take coach Guillermo Vázquez a few more weeks to figure out how this roster fits together, but by then it could be too late. His primary concern is in central defense where captain Ventura Alvarado’s struggles of last season remain an issue. One wonders whether he might not be better situated as a holding midfielder.
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Left back Cristian Calderón, 22, was a bright spot last season – and a summer transfer target for several teams – and he needs to continue developing. The explosive fullback missed last week’s loss against the Tigres, but I expect him back for this game.
The loss of last season’s leading scorer Brian Fernández was a big blow, but the young Salas, 21, could be the scorer the Rayos need. Part of Salas’ success will depend on how the new-look midfield performs.
Jesús Angulo and Claudio Baeza were acquired by the Rayos over the summer and they joined academy product José Plascencia, 20, in a midfield line of 4, alongside Daniel Alvarez. Although their unfamiliarity with each other was not a problem against Veracruz (a 7-0 win at home on Matchday 3), they looked hesitant against the Tigres last week.
The Rayos were not helped by a shaky performance in a midweek Copa MX match (falling asleep on two set pieces that allowed visiting second-division side Sinaloa to steal a 2-2 tie). If Necaxa is indecisive or daydreaming against Santos, they will get blown out.
The Guerreros of Santos Laguna will take the field at Estadio Victoria as the league’s only perfect team. Santos is 4-0-0 and each win has been rather dominant. Granted, they have not played top quality competition yet, but the mark of a great team is taking care of business against lesser opposition.
Coach Guillermo Almada has been pressing all the right buttons so far during the Apertura. His decision to bench captain José Abella in favor of Carlos Orrantia at right back has been rewarded with solid production. Hugo Rodríguez has also stepped up big in central defense in place of the departed Hugo Nervo.
In midfield, Diego Valdes and José Juan Vázquez have been pushed to the sideline by youngster Ulises Rivas and newcomer Fernando Gorriarán. Twenty-year-old Adrián Lozano has also looked decent as a defensive midfielder.
But Santos’ real strength is in attack where Brian Lozano is leading the league’s best offense. Lozano has four goals and two assists, while striker Julio Furch is showing fine form (he scored twice last week to help 10-man Santos defeat Puebla 4-1). Winger Erick Castillo has shown flashes of his talent, but he needs to work on his passing instead of relying on 1-on-1 plays which have too often resulted in turnovers.
Santos is just too good right now and they have refused to play down to the competition. That would suggest that Necaxa can’t hope that the Guerreros will be looking ahead to next week’s match against Monterrey. Coach Almada demands intensity and concentration for the full 90 minutes and Santos players have responded to his direction.