LA Galaxy’s CCL opponents Santos Laguna open 2016 with a new manager and a new sense of optimism

The LA Galaxy’s opponents in this February’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Santos Laguna will begin their 2016 Liga MX Clausura this weekend with a new look and a new manager.

The 2015 Clausura champions will open their campaign on Saturday when they face León in the first league match under the management of new head coach Luis Zubeldía.

The Argentine coach was appointed in late November after the dismissal of ex-Liverpool FC assistant coach Pako Ayestaran following a 16th place finish in the 2015 Apertura. Despite their poor finish in the Apertura, the pressure will be on Zubeldía to succeed at a Santos side that has won three league titles since 2005.

At just 34-years-old, he’ll be the youngest manager in the Liga MX this season and in charge of the league’s youngest team. Zubeldía arrives in Torreon after stops with Argentine clubs Lanus and Racing as well as Ecuadorian sides Barcelona SC and LDU Quito. At Quito, Zubeldía enjoyed his greatest accomplishments as a manager, helping Los Albos reach the Ecuadorian league final and finish with the best overall record in 2015.

Under their new boss, Santos have already tasted preseason success compiling a 7-0-1 record in eight matches against assorted Ascenso MX (second division) and Liga MX competition. During their preseason, Zubeldía’s squad notched 22 goals while only conceding four times.

To rebound after a disappointing Apertura that saw Santos fail to win a match at their home venue of Estadio Corona, Zubeldía retooled his squad with several additions including former Portland Timbers defender Jorge Villafaña. The Anaheim native and ex-Chivas USA man joined the Torreon outfit in December following a remarkable 2015 season with the Timbers that saw him man the left side of defense en route to the team’s first MLS Cup title.

In addition to Villafaña, Santos acquired former Club Tijuana midfielder Diego Buen, Dorados de Sinaloa striker Martin Bravo, and midfielder Ulises Dávila. Dávila could wind up being Santos’ most valuable acquisition ahead of the 2016 campaign, as the 24-year-old Mexican youth international arrives at Estadio Corona with extensive European experiences with stops in England, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal in recent years. During his five years in Europe, Dávila scored just 12 times but remains one of the most exciting prospects for El Tri.

Much will be demanded of the new signings and their new manager; particularly after Santos’ dismal Apertura campaign saw the Guerreros concede 24 goals while scoring just 21 times. Santos will also need to shore up their form at home following a tournament that saw them go winless at Estadio Corona while conceding a whopping 18 times.

The acquisition of Villafaña will be integral to Zubeldia’s attempts to reinforce the defense while Dávila will be expected to join a fast-paced attack that includes a variety of talented attackers including Chilean midfielder Bryan Rabello, and forwards Djaniny Tavares and Andres Renteria. Santos’ accomplished array of attacking players should bode well for Zubeldia, as the Argentine boss was known for his direct style of play during his previous managerial stops.

With the club heading into a new era, optimism will be high at the Estadio Corona for Santos to challenge for another Liga MX title and make a deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider  and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com