Like most of the rest of us, Santos Laguna didn’t quite have the 2020 they would have liked to have had. They started the year strong, and when the 2020 Clausura was halted they were in third place behind Cruz Azul and León. When play resumed for the 2020 Guard1anes, longtime goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco had been shipped out to Club Tijuana and left wing Brian Lozano was out for the season with a broken leg sustained in the preseason.
But also like most of the rest of us, Santos made the best of a bad situation. Goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo’s performances quickly put to rest any question about the position, and Guillermo Almada’s tactical switch from building play up through the wings to counterattacking mostly through the middle made finding an immediate replacement for the irreplaceable Lozano rather moot. Santos was able to pull out a miracle in their final game, beating Mazatlán FC 4-0 to leapfrog Pachuca and Necaxa into eighth place and avoiding a repechaje match.
But it ultimately ended in disappointment, with Santos being bounced in the Reclasificación round 3-0 by Pachuca. Scoring had been a problem for most of the season, and this resurfaced against Tuzos.
Key offseason additions:
The eventual return of Brian Lozano can’t be emphasized enough. The Uruguayan National Team’s first choice at left wing, he creates so much space for Santos’ attack because of his versatility. He forces center backs to drift wide to prevent him from cutting inside and unleashing a shots on goal, which opens up space for him to whip in crosses toward the center forward.
On his opposite side will be the returning Jesús Isijara, who comes back to La Laguna Comarca after two years with Atlas. Isijara is a dynamic playmaker and a great foil for Lozano, and the two of them will give opposing defenses absolute fits.
Santos also added Ignacio Jeraldino from Atlas, and the 25 year old had a good career in Chile and featured for the Chilean National Team before moving to Atlas, where he struggled to fit in, only scoring three goals in almost 1400 minutes in 2020.
They also announced the late pickup of right winger Juan Ferney Otero from Amiens, who was recently relegated to France’s Ligue 2. Santos has a good history of signing players from fringe European teams, including Matheus Dória and Fernando Gorriarán.
Key offseason subtractions:
Losing Julio Furch is big, however both he and Santos might benefit from the change. Furch saw his output decline drastically over the past few seasons. Since hitting a career high 12 goals in the 2018 Apertura when he was paired with Jonathan “Cabecita” Rodríguez, Furch had six goals in the 2019 Clausura, nine goals in the 2019 Apertura, three in the ten game 2020 Clausura, and just five last season - only one of which was from the run of play. Furch is a quality player, and perhaps he will regain his form with Atlas while Santos will look to Octavio Rivero, Eduardo “Mudo” Aguirre, or perhaps a canterano like Santiago Muñoz to fill the void left by Furch’s departure.
Santos also transfer listed right back Josecarlos Van Rankin, sent right winger Brayan Garnica to Atlas, and left wing Gael Sandoval went to Mazatlán FC. Van Rankin did well at right back but was on loan from Chivas so it remains to be seen if he’ll re-sign with Chivas, sign with Santos, or look elsewhere. Garnica and Sandoval were also serviceable, but Sandoval would have been a backup to Lozano and Garnica never really cemented himself in the right wing position.
Santos has a solid core of players in the center, starting with Acevedo and center backs Matheus Dória and Hugo Rodríguez as well as central midfielder Fernando Gorriarán. David Andrade and Carlos Orrantia did well at left back, and Orrantia could play at right back if Van Rankin doesn’t come back. Gorriarán paired well with Alan Cervantes, and either Cervantes or Ulíses Rívas with Gorri is versatile enough to play in a 4-2-3-1 with Lozano, Diego Valdés or Adrián Lozano, and Isijara behind either Octavio Rivero or Aguirre or in a flat 4-4-2 with Lozano and Isijara playing a little deeper with Valdés being swapped out to have both Rivero and Aguirre or Ayrton Preciado up top.
The team also has depth, with former Xolos goalkeeper and Mexico National Team goalkeeper Gibran Lajud backing up Acevedo, young Félix Torres at center back, and a host of canteranos that look to follow in the great tradition of Santos developing players from within.
There are some significant questions about the team however, the biggest and most obvious of which is who will score goals? Rivero, Aguirre, Jeraldino, and to a lesser degree Preciado have shown they can do it in fits and starts but never in a consistent enough manner to threaten. Santos also will also need to see how well Brian Lozano has recuperated from the broken leg suffered last year. He was held out of the Liguilla intentionally to allow more time for his leg to heal, and reports have surfaced that he might miss another two months. If Lozano can’t play for an extended period of time and if no one can score, it could be a long and frustrating season for Santos.