We are only days away from the LA Galaxy taking on Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League. After four preseason games comes the game that matters most. While Santos Laguna finished 16th in the Liga MX table last season, the team from northern Mexico will be no slouch for Bruce Arena's men. Led by 35-year-old manager Luis Zubeldia, the Guerreros will be looking to earn their first international title in their history.
Founded on September 4, 1983, Santos Laguna has rapidly become one of the most celebrated teams in northeastern Mexico. Based in Torreon, Coahuila, Santos were promoted to Mexico's top tier in 1988 and have not been relegated since. In a span of less than 30 years, they have won five league titles, their most recent trophy coming in May 2015.
2015, however, was also the year the team went through two managers and finished without a single home win in the second half of the year. Following a woeful Apertura, Spanish head coach and former Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayestaran left the club, and Luis Zubeldia was then named new Santos Laguna manager. The 35-year-old Argentine is the youngest head coach in Liga MX and has impressed in his first few weeks at the club.
Playing a 4-2-3-1, Zubeldia has found arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Agustin Marchesin and a reliable defense in Carlos Izquierdoz, Nestor Araujo, and Jorge Villafaña. Villafaña, who arrived to the club in December from the Portland Timbers, has featured prominently for the Guerreros and has been a pleasant surprise at left back.
In the midfield, Jesus Molina plays the role of defensive midfielder, with Diego Gonzalez playing the role of constructor in the middle of the pitch. The creative spark, though, belongs to young Chilean midfielder Bryan Rabello. When it comes to the game's transitioning, Rabello is always at the heart of things for Santos Laguna.
Finally, the Galaxy's defense will receive little comfort with Djaniny and Andres Renteria on the attack. Djaniny, a Cape Verde international, plays on the right side of Santos' attack but often adds himself as a second forward. In total, Djaniny has featured four times in the CONCACAF Champion League, scoring three times for the Guerreros.
The Galaxy remain a team full of class players and to write them off wouldn't be wise. But under Luis Zubeldia, Santos are showing far more consistency. The Galaxy may just feel that facing Santos Laguna will be a tougher task than they expected.