Ruben Omar Romano out, Diego Cocca in. After reaching a couple of finals with a team that played extremely entertaining football, Romano decided to flip the bird to some fans during the 2011 Clausura. He was promptly fired. A new era has started in Torreon, and Conca has already made some sweeping changes. The young Argentinian clearly has a much different vision for the club, but only time will tell if he is allowed to execute that vision.
The biggest exit from Santos over the summer was Cristian Benitez, a man who scored more than 50 goals in his three years at Santos. The Ecuadorian international has moved on to Club America for a reported $10 million, a staggering number for a transfer between two Mexican teams. He wasn't the only major departure, as Fernando Arce, Rodrigo Ruiz and Jonathan Lacerda have also made their way to greener pastures. Arce and Benitez weren't directly replaced.
This indicates a couple of things. One, Cocca is going to adapt a different style of play. Two, don't expect Santos to return to a final right away. Cocca is only 38 years old and Santos hasn't given him back the money generated by the Benitez transfer, so one can only hope that Grupo Modelo is going to be patient with the inexperienced but promising Argentinian manager. Cocca got some decent results in half a season last year and we got a look at some tactical tendencies, but he's now had an entire offseason with the team. Some changes might be in store.
Lacerda was the only departed Santos star that was directly replaced, as Argentinian defender Santiago Hoyos joined the team from Lanus. Teaming up with Panamanian international Felipe Baloy, he'll help to form what is arguably the most formidable central defense pairing in the league. Santos have also added former Chivas man Aaron Galindo, who was inactive last season due to a combination of fitness problems and a contract dispute. As a result, he's an unknown quantity right now, but his pedigree means that he should be a top class backup to start the year. It's also possible that Cocca could use all three of them in a back three, with Hoyos and Galindo on either side of Baloy.
Jorge Ivan Estrada and Rafael Figueroa should continue to be good options at the fullback spots, while youngster Cesar Ibanez might finally get a shot. Jose Antonio Olvera could compete for time at fullback or midfield, and his left-footed crosses are a major asset for Santos.
The back line will be protected as always by defensive midfielder Juan Pablo Rodriguez, one of the best in the game. Despite the fact that he's played nearly 500 games as a 31 year old, notching 43 Mexico caps in that timespan, he might actually be a bit underrated. He was just as much a key cog in Santos' runs to their two Liguilla finals as the likes of Benitez, Vicente Vuoso, Baloy, and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez were, but he gets considerably less publicity. His consistent play allowed Romano to play such an ambitious style, and it will be interesting to see how Cocca utilizes him.
Arce's departure implies that Jose Maria Cardenas and Carlos Morales will start on either side of midfield, but Morales was rumored to be on the outs as well, before it was determined that he was needed for depth. Once again, this makes one wonder whether a dramatic change is coming, but a look at Cocca's time with Godoy Cruz and Gimnasia La Plata, as well as Santos' matches with him in charge last year reveal that he's keen on variations on 4-4-2, but that he is willing to employ a back three or a three man center of midfield. I'd expect Cardenas and Morales wide in the first game of the year, but where does this leave Daniel Ludueña?
The Argentinian playmaker has been fantastic in his time with Santos, but playing him in the center of a flat 4-4-2 seems like a bad idea. Rodriguez is a good enough holding midfielder that they can get away with it, but the likes of Cruz Azul and Monterrey would probably be able to keep the ball for days against a team like that, and many other would be able to counter attack through the midfield very effectively. Cocca did play Ludueña as a wide player a couple of times last year, and he might try that again as an excuse to get one of his best players on the field, even if he doesn't fit the system.
Up top, the first choice pairing will likely be Oribe Peralta and Carlos Darwin Quintero, both of whom are quick, skilled, and proficient finishers, which should soften the blow of Benitez's departure. Carlos Ochoa has also returned to the team, while Christian Suarez has been brought in from relegated Necaxa. Though this group doesn't include anyone of the class of Benitez, it's a very strong group and one that should be able to score some goals for Santos this season.
Juan Pablo Rodriguez - The little man in the center of midfield is one of the best in the business when it comes to positioning, tackling, and accurate short passes. He breaks up counter attacks and helps Santos to keep the ball, allowing their other players to shine.
Potential Breakout Star
Carlos Darwin Quintero - Though hardly an unknown quantity, Quintero was stuck in the shadow of Benitez last season. He will be the No. 1 scoring option up top now, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the 23-year-old hit double digit goals.
Liguilla - Cocca is a bit of an unknown quantity, despite having half a season with Santos last year, but this team undoubtedly has top eight talent. Even with the departure of Benitez, Liguilla is the minimum goal for this team.
This is the twelfth in our series of Mexican Primera team previews. Check out the earlier previews of Club Tijuana Xolos, Queretaro FC, Jaguares de Chiapas, Estudiantes Tecos, Club Atlas, Puebla FC, Atlante FC,San Luis, UANL Tigres, Chivas Guadalajara, and Pachuca.