After coming just short of a championship in the 2021 Clausura, Santos Laguna enters the 2021 Apertura largely unchanged. Santos has a very strong defense, lead by goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo and center backs Matheus Dória and Félix Torres. Acevedo’s star rose to new heights last season, leaving many to wonder why he was omitted from national team duty despite the aging corps that keeps getting calls. Torres had a fantastic season, putting behind the past couple of forgettable campaigns that he had in Torreón, while Dória’s season culminated in him being named the league’s best defender. Starting outside backs David Andrade and Emilio Orrantia had a bit of a learning curve, but both played admirably and seem to be on a good development path.
No player means more to Santos perhaps than Fernando Gorriarán. The central midfielder’s work rate and vision have not only won him accolades in the press and from the league, but have also earned him his first international caps with Uruguay. He’s usually paired with Diego Valdés, who just signed a contract extension through 2024. Gorriarán likes to drop deeper while Valdés is more of an attacking playmaker, although they were able to play off of one another very well last season. At 23 and 24 respectively, Alan Cervantes and Roni Prieto are promising young players, both of whom pose vital two-way threats with the ability to drift into wide spaces. Both should see increased playing time, and can slot into multiple positions in central midfield, on the attacking wing, and at wing back.
The wings could be one of Santos’ deepest positions this season. Ayrton Preciado had a standout season at left wing, with Andrés Ibargüen also showing good form in his appearances. A healthy Brian Lozano however may relegate both players to the bench. On the right wing, Juan Ferney Otero had a decent season and looked to be getting into the rhythm of the Mexican game, and Brayan Garnica and Jesús Isijara proved competent understudies.
The forward position will be critical this season. Eduardo “Mudo” Aguirre had something of a breakout season last year, becoming the team’s leading goal scoring option. Aguirre sits over youngster Jesús Ocejo and Ignacio Jeraldino on the depth chart, although with Santos’ recent addition of Alessio Da Cruz Aguirre’s position may be his to lose.
Key offseason additions:
When you come in as runners-up, there isn’t often a huge need to make sweeping changes to a squad. Santos is no different, and the team will be mostly the same as the team put out in the Apertura. The biggest addition of the season (so far) has been the announcement of 24-year-old forward Alessio Da Cruz from Parma in Italy’s Serie A. Da Cruz had spent time in clubs in his native Netherlands including FC Twente and Dordrecht as well as clubs in Italy including Spezia and Ascoli and a brief stint with English Championship with Sheffield Wednesday. Da Cruz most recently featured with Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie on a loan. He can play up top or along the wing, so it will be interesting to see how Guillermo Almada decides when, where, and how to utilize his skills.
Not an addition per se, but Brian Lozano has been training with the team and reports have him coming back to the fold as early as the second week of the season. Lozano has been recovering from a broken leg suffered in June of 2020. Having him fit and available for selection will be a huge boost to the team, both for what he brings on and off the pitch.
Key offseason subtractions:
The biggest name to leave was Adrián Lozano, who left on loan to Atlético de San Luis. The speedy forward had shown some promise in some bench appearances but never really caught on with Santos. Lozano wasn’t going to beat out Diego Valdés at attacking midfield, however he had progressed beyond a mere backup role so this is a good move for all parties involved.
Much in the way that Lozano wasn’t really an addition, Santiago Muñoz isn’t really a subtraction. He’s still with Santos, albeit with the U20s as a potential move to Europe goes through the motions. That said, when the club has to release a comunicado oficial to talk about how the player is under contract for another year and will play with the U20s, it’s safe to say that things aren’t going well at the moment. This could change however. Muñoz has a world of talent, and while there’s interest in his services in Torreón and elsewhere that can all evaporate if he spends an inordinate amount of time with the U20s or doesn’t play at all.
Santos’ defense was superb last season, and they were able to ride that all the way into the Finals. They were undone however by their inability to score when it counted most. While Santos’ run to the Final last season wasn’t a fluke, there was perhaps a bit of luck involved. The team struggled at times to score, however their defense often ensured they were always in the running to get at least a point. Of course they shouldn’t necessarily sacrifice defensively to improve offensively, however they need to finish the chances they’re inevitably given. Someone has to step up, be it Da Cruz, Aguirre, a healthy Lozano, or a hungry understudy ready to earn minutes. If someone becomes the go-to player in front of goal, there’s no reason Santos couldn’t have their seventh star this Christmas.