CCL Semifinal Team Preview: Santos Laguna

The Sounders CONCACAF Champions League semifinal opponent is previewed ahead of the team's meeting on Tuesday.

Nicknames: Santos are at times referred to as Los Albiverdes (White and Green), Los Guerreros (The Warriors) or Los Verdiblancos (The Green and White)

Home Stadium: The club calls the 30,000-seat Estadio Corona their home. Located in the city of Torreón, some 400 miles south of the Texas/Mexico border, the stadium was completed in 2009 and is part of the “Territorio Santos Modelo,” a complex featuring an academy, team offices and (eventually) a hotel that will overlook the stadium itself.

Ownership: It’s no surprise that a team that plays their home matches at Corona Stadium on the grounds of the Santos Modelo Campus is owned by a brewery. Grupo Modelo has long had an interest in Santos and formally took control of the team in 2007. They’ve since spearheaded efforts on and off the pitch to modernize the club and attain the popularity of more traditional Mexican powerhouses like Club América, Pumas and Chivas de Guadalajara.

INFOGRAPHIC: Santos Laguna Team Profile

History: Santos Laguna was formed in the early 80’s. The team spent its early years in the lower tiers of the Mexican soccer pyramid, and entered Liga MX play in 1988 when the club purchased the franchise vacated by former Mexican club Ángeles de Puebla.

The team has won four Liga MX titles: Mexican national team legend Jared Borghetti led “Los Guerreros” to Clausura glory in 1996, and they’ve followed that with an Apertura title in 2001 and Clausura victories in 2008 and 2012. Since Grupo Modelo took control of the team in 2007, Santos has only missed out on “Liguilla” (playoff) play on two occasions, making them a force to be reckoned with in the Mexican first division.

Santos have qualified for every edition of CONCACAF Champions League since its redesign in 2008 and nearly won the tournament in 2012, narrowly losing in the final to Monterrey. They’ve also made two Champions’ Cup appearances, one in 1997 and the other in 2002.

How They Got Here: Santos Laguna qualified for the current edition of CONCACAF Champions League as the 2012 Clausura champion. Drawn into group play alongside Toronto FC and Salvadoran side CD Águila, Los Albiverdes made mincemeat of both of their opponents, winning all four games by a combined score of 13-1. Only returning CCL champions Monterrey were more dominant in this year’s Group Stage, shutting all four of their opponents out while finding the back of the net 15 times.

Advancing to the knockout phase of the tournament as a No. 2 seed, Santos found themselves facing a quarterfinal match-up with the Houston Dynamo. After a 1-0 defeat at BBVA Compass Stadium in the first leg, Santos returned home to Torreón and took care of business, scoring twice in the first half hour of play en route to a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Current Form: Santos is red hot and will enter this weekend’s Liga MX fixture with Querétaro as winners of their last four league encounters. After a slow start to the campaign, Los Verdiblancos have pulled to within four points of league-leading Tigres. The only match the club has lost across all competitions since mid-February was their narrow 1-0 CCL defeat to the Dynamo, a loss which they avenged with the 3-0 win in the return leg of the series.

The club’s potent offense is led by Mexican-born striker Oribe Peralta. A national team regular, Peralta was part of his country’s gold medal winning squad at the 2012 Summer Olympics, scoring twice in the final. He’s remained in form ever since, and his six goals in 2013 Clausura play are good for third in the league.

Joining him in attack is U.S. Men’s National team member Herculez Gomez, who has made a living torching MLS sides in Champion’s League play. He was among the goalscorers in Santos’ 3-0 defeat of the Dynamo earlier this month and scored three goals against Sounders FC last year, which eliminated Seattle from the 2012 CCL. Much like Peralta, Gomez has also been on fire in Liga MX play, starting every game in the 2013 Clausura and finding the back of the net on four occasions.

Gomez actually played for Seattle during the club’s USL days, and has won a CCL title with Liga MX side Pachuca, which led to an appearance in the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup. He’s also taken a particular interest in Champion’s League play and has even taken some good-hearted jabs at the Sounders and their fans via his Twitter account.

Santos’ midfield and defensive corps are also deep, and the club is captained by former Mexican National Team goalie and World Cup veteran Oswaldo Sánchez. Unlike some other CCL competitors – Tigres UANL come to mind - Santos Laguna has made a habit of bringing its full-strength Starting XI to every meaningful match in the competition. Ten out of the 11 players who took the pitch against the Dynamo on March 13th started in the team’s Liga MX match just three days later, and the Sounders can expect a similar lineup on Tuesday.

Make no mistake: a full-strength Santos team will be Seattle’s toughest opponent to date in CCL play. A victory at CenturyLink next week is a tall order, but by no means an impossibility. The Sounders made history earlier in the month by becoming the first MLS side to eliminate a Liga MX team from Champions League play, and now they have the chance to do something even more improbable: knock two Mexican giants off in a row en route to the CONCACAF Champions league finals.