Everything NYCFC fans need to know about Santos de Guápiles
By Christian Smith
As a reward for being 2021 MLS Cup Champions, New York City FC have been rewarded a berth into the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League where they will face other top teams from around North America vying to accomplish continental greatness and stamp their ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup where they will face the best clubs from around the world.
Having won their domestic league, NYCFC were placed in Pot 1 during the CCL draw, in which they were matched up against Costa Rican club Santos de Guápiles, a qualifier from the CONCACAF League. Santos de Guápiles is a bit of an unknown to the typical American football fan but poses stiff competition to the Boys in Blue.
Founded in 1961, Santos de Guápiles is a chippy side. Despite never winning their domestic league in their 50 years of existence, they recently finished 3rd in the Liga FPD Clausura and finished 2nd in the 2017 CONCACAF League. The team plays their home games at the small, rinky-dink Estadio Ebal Rodriguez which is in need of renovations.
But nobody wants a history lesson. The questions are: are they dangerous, and how do they play? The answer to the first question is… absolutely! Any team that can be one of 16 teams in their entire region that qualify for the CCL are sure to put up a good fight.
The answer to the second requires a much more in-depth search. But thanks to Twitter user @CRCFutbol, we got you covered! CRC was kind enough to post a video, dissecting how Santos de Guápiles play and what to expect.
Santos de Guápiles are a counter-attacking team
A growing trend in the world of football has utilizing been the low block defensive style, prioritizing counter-attacks while maintaining a fluid shape that begins as a 5-back but can easily transition into being a 3-back. Santos de Guápiles is no different. The team known as ‘Rojiblancos’ to fans is definitely a defense-first team and plays in the shape of a 5-4-1, defending with anywhere from 7-8 players near their defensive end.
In this setup, Santos de Guápiles is able to defend with plenty of numbers while two attacking players sit near the midfield line. Once possession is won, you can definitely expect a long ball over the top of the defense to spur the attack.
Santos de Guápiles is capable of a much more balanced 4-3-3
In addition to the 5-4-1 low block, Santos de Guápiles doesn’t shy away from approaching games with a more balanced mentality in the classic 4-3-3. In this shape, according to CRC, Santos de Guápiles prioritize attacking the wide areas, crossing balls in for tough-as-nails talisman Javon East of Jamaica.
Judging by the clips shown, this seems to be the go-to shape for Guápiles should they desperately need a goal.
Is NYCFC the favorites against Santos de Guápiles?
Given the two teams’ history and the seasons they are coming off of, it is only logical to suggest that NYCFC are the overwhelming favorites against Santos de Guápiles. Though the latter surely won’t be a cakewalk, NYCFC is coming off of a league championship, something Santos de Guápiles has yet to do in their 50-year history. Furthermore, NYCFC has already faced much tougher competition in their 2020 CCL appearance in then-Clausura champions AD San Carlos, who the Boys in Blue easily brushed aside by an aggregate scoreline of 6-3.
The Boys in Blue still have several questions to answer personnel before the first leg against Santos de Guápiles between February 15 and 17. But with momentum purely on their side, beating NYCFC right now would be a tall task for anyone to accomplish right now, much less a scrappy Costa Rican underdog.