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The Bielsa Report: Five things you should know about Santos de Guápiles

NYCFC plays the Costa Rican club in the CONCACAF Champions League

The Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica is one of the better facilities in Central America.
Courtesy FlickreviewR

The Bielsa Report is named for Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, and the comprehensive if legally suspect research he conducts on opposing teams.

Three Santos starters won’t play

The most timely piece of information ahead of out New York City FC’s 2022 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League game tomorrow against Costa Rica’s Santos de Guápiles: Three key starters for Santos will be out of the lineup because of work visa issues. According to the website Jugador Franquicia, striker and Jamaica international Javon East, attacking midfielder and Cuba international Luis Paradela, and central defender Everardo Rubio will not allowed be to play in Costa Rica until late March.

Those three absences might help explain the recent form of Santos. The club currently sit in 10th place in the 12-team Liga FBD, with just four points after four games and only two goals scored. Most recently, Santos lost at home on Saturday to Pérez Zeledón 0-1.

Intriguingly, the paperwork problem for those three players might not apply when Santos travel to Los Angeles to play NYCFC on Wednesday, February 23 at Banc of California Stadium—they’re not allowed to play on Costa Rican soil, but they could still play for their club in the United States. We may yet see East, Paradela, and Everardo take the field.

Cede possession, close the midfield, attack in transition

Even without those three starters, Santos manager Erick Rodríguez is likely to stick to his preferred playing style of ceding possession, then closing up the midfield and waiting for an opportune moment to launch an attack in transition. Expect 31-year-old midfielder Osvaldo Rodríguez and 20-year-old forward Josimar Méndez to lead those sorties.

Pace is important to the transitional play of Santos, but so is the element of surprise. The club isn’t going to dominate NYCFC, or even attempt to outrun them. But they will pick their moments and try to slot home a goal or two.

Seeding the index

While it follows that NYCFC, the seventh seed, should play Santos, the tenth seed, the reasoning why NYCFC is seeded seventh and Santos is seeded tenth is a little more elaborate.

The seeding is determined by the confusingly named CONCACAF Club Index, a rating system that doesn’t look at a particular club’s record but that rather gives a numerical value to the CONCACAF Champions League performances of the clubs that occupied a particular slot in the past five years.

Confused? Stay with us.

NYCFC, winner of the 2021 MLS Cup, occupies the USA1 slot. In the last five years, the teams that filled USA1 slot didn’t put in overly strong performances, earning just 51 points on aggregate according to the CONCACAF Club Index system—good for 10th-best out of the 16 slots. The clubs in the USA2 slot did better, earning 68 points, while the clubs in the USA3 slot were even stronger, earning 69 points. That’s why NYCFC is the seventh seed, New England Revolution in the USA2 slot have the fifth seed, and Colorado Rapids in the USA3 slot take the fourth seed. The first, second, and third seeds are all occupied by teams from Liga MX.

Santos occupy the CRC2 slot, which earned just 34 points.

Home away from home

Santos usually play on the synthetic surface of Estadio Ebal Rodriguez Aguilar, a 2,300-seat stadium in Guápiles, a town in the central highlands. Guápiles has about 36,000 residents, which just happens to be the capacity of Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, where tomorrow’s match will be played. Opened in 2011, the Estadio Nacional is one of the better facilities in Central America, and the grass field is a comfortable 105-meters by 68-meters.

The game will be held in the Estadio Nacional in the Costa Rican capital of San José because the Estadio Ebal Rodriguez Aguilar doesn’t meet Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League standards. Neither does Yankee Stadium. That means that both sides will play their home games at stadiums that are not their homes. To be fair, San José is just 40 miles away from Guápiles. The 2,800-mile distance between Yankee Stadium and Banc of California is a little more meaty.

No hay copas

Since the club was established in 1961, Santos has never won Liga FBD—or any silverware for that matter. Last year the team finished in second place, which earned them this berth in the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League. In 2017, Santos was the runner-up in the CONCACAF League, the Europa League-like second-tier tournament that will end after this year—Santos lost on penalties to Club Deportivo Olimpia, in a game played at the same Estadio Nacional where they will face NYCFC tomorrow.