Besides other changes, Santos must adjust to the injury to Christian Benitez
2/16/2009By Dylan Butler

Perhaps a return to the CONCACAF Champions League is what Santos Laguna needs to break out of its early season malaise.

Santos has only one win in five games of the Mexican Clausura championship and had gone 368 minutes without a goal until Daniel Ludena scored in the 50th minute of Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Guadalajara. Until Ludena’s tally, Juan Rodriguez had the only goal in Santos’ season, a 42nd-minute penalty kick in a 2-1 loss to America in the season opener.

The victory did little for Santos’ season prospects, leaving it 14th in the 18-team league.

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It was a busy off-season for Santos, which claimed the last of eight playoff berths in the Apertura championship before upsetting top-seeded San Luis 5-2 on aggregate in the opening round of the playoffs. It was eliminated by eventual champion Toluca 2-1 in the semifinals.

Gone is American-born defender Edgar Castillo. The 22-year-old and member of the Mexican under-23 team transferred to America after two years with Santos. Also having departed for America is Argentine defender Fernando Ortiz, while Oribe Peralta, a 25-year-old striker who scored eight goals in 72 appearances has joined Jaguares on loan.

To replace them, Santos has acquired Ecuadoran international Pedro Quinonez, a midfielder who had 10 goals in 113 appearances with El Nacional in Ecuador, diminutive 21-year-old Colombian striker Carlos Quintero for a reported $4 million from Deportivo Pereira and 23-year-old central midfielder Juan Carlos Mosqueda from America.

But Santos is missing Christian Benitez, the Ecuadoran international striker who suffered a shoulder injury in a 0-0 draw against Puebla on February 1, his first match after fracturing his right fibula in November. Benitez, considered one of top foreign strikers in Mexico’s Primera Division, has scored 27 goals in 50 appearances since joining the club from El Nacional in 2007.

A year after nearly being relegated, Santos captured the 2008 Clausura title, defeating Cruz Azul 3-2 on aggregate for its third title. The club also enjoyed a successful inaugural Champions League campaign, finishing atop Group D with 10 points in six matches.

Santos, one of four Mexican clubs in the final eight, will meet the Montreal Impact, which joins the Puerto Rico Islanders as United Soccer Leagues First Division teams to advance to the knockout stage.

The first leg will be played at Olympic Stadium on February 25 in Montreal. The second leg will be in Torreon, Mexico on March 5.

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