The champs are here. Santos Laguna was a team without peer in Mexico last season, winning eleven games, scoring 33 goals, finishing top of the table, and -- most importantly -- lifting the league trophy. It was a tour de force from the Torreon club, and with little change during the offseason, there’s no reason to doubt they can put on a repeat performance in the 2012 Apertura.
Santos club management largely took an "if it ain’t broke" strategy to the summer offseason. None of the key players from the Clausura title run have left the club, which is relatively unusual in the Mexican league’s wild transfer market. On the other side, the club did make a splash with one high profile signing. Edgar Gerardo Lugo, a highly talented attacking midfielder, joins the team from Morelia. Lugo was a crucial part of Morelia’s success last year, and finished as the Monarcas’ second-leading scorer behind Miguel Sabah. The Santos attacking front is already an embarrassment of riches, but Lugo has more than enough ability to stake out a starting role.
With players like Oribe Peralta, Christian Suarez, Carlos Darwin Quintero, Herculez Gomez, and Daniel Luduena, there is no shortage of scoring power on the Santos roster. Santos was the top-scoring team in Mexico during the 2012 Clausura, finishing the regular season with 33 goals in 17 games. After a scoreless draw with Pachuca in the season opener, Santos scored in every game the rest of the way en route to the title. Now with the addition of Lugo, things will only get tougher for opposing defenses.
The depth up front also gives Santos some flexibility over the first few weeks of the season, when they will be without Oribe Peralta who is playing with Mexico's Olympic team. Look for Herculez Gomez to step seamlessly into the starting striker role up top.
The toughest challenge for Santos this season may be dealing with the pressure to repeat as champions. No team in Mexico has won back-to-back titles in fifteen seasons. The last to accomplish the feat was Pumas during the Clausura and Apertura tournaments in 2004. But if anyone can deal with the challenge of defending a title, it’s Santos. This team knows pressure better than anyone. Pressure is playing in your fourth league finals in five seasons after falling short the previous three trips. If anything, Santos enter into this season with less pressure on them than anytime in the last few years. That's a scary thought for the rest of the league. It's almost a given that Santos will be back near the top of the league table this season, and if manager Benjamin Galindo can keep his players focused, we may be just a few months away from seeing another title celebration in Torreon.
Edgar Gerardo Lugo -- The Lugo signing was another case of the rich getting richer in the Liga MX. Lugo will join an absolutely loaded attack at Santos, giving the team even more depth and flexibility for both their CONCACAF Champions League and Apertura tournament runs.
Mark Your Calendar
Week 7 vs. Tigres -- These two northern rivals have played a multitude of high profile matches over the last few years. Last December it was Tigres beating Santos for the league title, while this past season it was Santos advancing past Tigres in the Liguilla semifinals. It's likely the two sides will meet again in this season's playoffs, but first they'll face off in a grudge match at Estadio Corona on September 1st.
League Finals -- As unpredictable as the Mexican league is, it's hard to imagine a scenario where this team doesn't finish the regular season at least in the top 3. As far as the playoffs go, with less pressure this season and more recent Liguilla experience than any other team, look for Santos to make their fifth finals appearance in the last six seasons.
This is the eighteenth and final entry in our series of Liga MX team previews ahead of the Apertura 2012 season. See our earlier previews of San Luis, Club Atlas, Queretaro, Club Leon, Puebla, Atlante, Jaguares Chiapas, Club Tijuana, Pachuca, Pumas UNAM, Chivas Guadalajara, Toluca, Cruz Azul, Monarcas Morelia, Club America, Monterrey, and Tigres UANL.