Last season, I wrote a column proclaiming that Santos Laguna was the real thing. We’d seen plenty of teams get hot and wither as the season went along. Pumas was atop the table for a while and fell apart. Puebla and León both held playoff positions before ultimately succumbing to their mediocrity. Santos however was able to weather injuries to Djaniny Tavares and Néstor Araujo before ultimately steamrolling their way to their sixth star.
Since having their names engraved on the trophy, Santos has seen more upheaval than most clubs see in multiple seasons. Liga MX leading scorer Djaniny left for Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia. Araujo played his first game for Celta Vigo in La Liga this weekend against Espanyol. Captain Carlos Izquierdoz and his new team Boca Juniors just faced off against Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona last week. Jorge Sánchez was sent to Club América. Bryan Rabello was sent to Lobos BUAP. Jorge Villafaña returned to Major League Soccer, joining the Portland Timbers.
Off the field, things were happening too. Manager Robert Dante Siboldi and his entire coaching staff left after a reported physical altercation between Siboldi and center back Gerardo Alcoba. It’d be easy to chalk the 2018 Apertura up as one of rebuilding and perhaps soul-searching for Santos.
Instead at the end of Week 5 they sit in second place on the table, one point behind a resurgent Cruz Azul. Santos has lost one game in Torreón all year - a Week 16 Clausura match against Pumas. They just beat a solid Tigres team 3-1, with Tigres’ best chances coming from the penalty spot.
The changes in personnel haven’t had much effect. Alcoba has been benched for Matheus Dória. The Brazilian center back on loan from Olympique de Marseille has looked solid in his two matches, even scoring a goal against Chivas in Week 4. Center back Martín Nervo has looked ever more solid each week, finding a rhythm in the ever unpredictable Liga MX.
It’s not just the new guys that are contributing. Jonathan Rodríguez was a bench option behind Djaniny and Julio Furch in the Clausura. In the Apertura, he’s seized on his opportunity and shown brilliance from both the run of play and from set pieces. Rodríguez has four goals in the five games, which is tied with Necaxa’s Victor Dávila for the league lead. Behind him is battery-mate Julio Furch with three goals. Furch has really taken on the mantle of being a leader on the offensive front. Brian Lozano has also stepped up, becoming a key cog in the offensive unit.
Santos still has a long way to go before getting their name engraved on the Liga MX trophy again. There’s almost a full season and a Liguilla to go. But it’s remarkable what they’ve been able to accomplish with all that’s happened in the last three months. If their performance in the first five weeks is any indication of what they’re capable of, it could be a long season for the rest of Liga MX.