Midway through his second full season in management, things were looking good for Robinho Lazaró. His Deportes Puerto Montt side was top of the league and had only suffered one defeat. But could they keep the good times rolling under pressure?
The funny little transfer window, in which each side is allowed to make three signings, began with Nicolás Queiroz refusing to sign a contract and Lazaró had to sell him for £12,000. Then last year’s excellent performer Nicolás Gauna had drastically dropped off after suffering an Achilles injury and moved to México for £40,000.
One foreign player slot (five can be registered) was filled by yet another Mexican, that’s the fourth, in striker Vladimir Moragrega. Lazaró also moved to snap up two more exciting young Brazilians in Mauro Antonio and the brilliantly named Ronaldo Pitbull, which takes them to a total of seven.
Looking to maintain a strong start
The second half of the season didn’t start well as they conceded to mid-table Colchagua’s first shot. But they came back firing with goals from midfielder Alfonso Sánchez and both centre-backs Sebastián Pino and Juan Ángel Vera, who doubled his tally from the penalty spot. A wild 4-1 win saw the two sides share 51 shots! A similar pattern of play followed at Cobresal, who scored a penalty inside two minutes then Puerto Montt scored four before half-time through both strikers Santiago Patroni and José de Jésus Godínez, a screamer by right-back Alexis Ponce and midfielder Yeiko Cartagena. And they just about survived a late comeback to win 4-3.
The sparkling form continued as Moragrega got his first goal for the club in a 2-0 win at home to Deportes Melipilla. But it came to an end as Puerto Montt suffered their first loss in three months 1-0 at home to Coquimbo Unido. The players responded well by beating playoff-chasing San Marcos de Arica 3-0 with a Moragrega brace and a goal from his strike partner Godínez.
A mini-injury crisis and an under 21s game clash led to Lazaró only having 11 outfield first-teamers available for a trip to Deportes Copiapó. But they still dominated the game and won 1-0 with Godínez scoring the only goal and Brazilian youngsters Rui Rei and Rodrigo Barbosa making their debuts.
They then had a huge game with a trip to face second-placed Fernández Vial. The first half was a tame affair but midfielder Eduardo Vilches sparked it into life as he hit the bar with a free-kick then Vial went down the other end and took the lead. Moragrega’s stunning strike got them level and went close to a winner in injury-time. But Lazaró was delighted to take a 1-1 draw home to Puerto Montt.
Moragrega was at it again, scoring a screamer to open the scoring at home to Deportes Iquique before Vilches bagged a brace and Godínez netted his 10th of the campaign. Both Moragrega and Godínez scored again in a 2-1 win at Santiago Wanderers, who offered nothing bar a penalty converted by old boy Queiroz, before Sánchez hit a rocket and got two assists to inspire a 4-1 win at AC Barnechea.
5 games from promotion glory
Heading into the final games of the season, Puerto Montt enjoyed a five-point lead over second-placed Fernández Vial and were a huge 17 clear of third-place Deportes Milipilla. Surely promotion and Robinho Lazaró’s first piece of silverware was on the cards?
Game 1: O’Higgins (home): The run-in began at home to title favourites, underperforming but improving O’Higgins. They went behind after half an hour but Pino headed home from a corner to earn a 1-1 draw. The next day, Vial lost at Santa Cruz, which extended the lead to nine points.
Game 2: Santiago Morning (home): That meant a win at home to bottom of the league Santiago Morning would effectively seal promotion for Puerto Montt. However, they managed to go and lose 1-0 despite having 30 shots to four. Unbelievable! Vial won 1-0 away to reduce the gap to six points.
Game 3: Unión San Felipe (home): A third successive home game saw Puerto Montt hit the woodwork twice in the first half-hour. But they kept pressing and Moragrega put them ahead with an emphatic finish on 35 minutes. The striker hit the post then both he and Godinez missed absolute sitters, but Partroni came off the bench to hit an absolute peach of a strike to seal a 2-0 win. The next day, Vial drew 1-1 at home to Cobresal, which meant the title race was over.
Puerto Montt were Champions of Campeonato Division B and promoted to the Chilean top-tier for the first time since 2007!
The campaign rounded off with a 2-1 win over Santa Cruz and 1-0 success at third-place Deportes Megallanes. That result ensured Puerto Montt went the entire season without an away defeat, which is pretty impressive! However, they three home games en route to racking up a club record 73 points. Melipilla beat Vial in the promotion playoff final with an 89th-minute winner.
Vilches was the star of the division, finishing with the most assists (13) and a new league record average rating (7.64) followed by Pino (7.48) and Godínez (7.41), who was the joint-sixth top scorer with 12 goals. Unsurprisingly, Vilches won the league’s Player of the Year, Pino won Young Player of the Year and Lazaró was honoured as Manager of the Year, which was his first-ever managerial award win.
Vilches was again the main man this season, finishing with a club-high 13 assists plus five goals and a 7.64 average rating from 27 appearances. Godínez was the top scorer with 12 goals followed by Patroni’s 10 and Moragrega, who scored nine in 16. Impressive loanee Pino scored seven from centre-back and Lazaró moved quickly to sign him permanently at the end of his contract in the summer. Homegrown left-back Harold Antinerre got the second-most assists with six along with Godínez, followed by Moragrera and Sánchez (both 4).
Vilches again won fans’ player of the season and Pino won young player of the season, while goalkeeper Eduardo Miranda, who kept a new club record 14 clean sheets, was signing of the season and Cartagena won goal of the season. The league win also boosted the club’s reputation from 2-stars to 2.5-stars. However, it also saw the board pay £325,000 in bonuses, which plunged the bank balance £700,000 into the red!
There are exciting times ahead for Puerto Montt as the club’s improved youth recruitment produced an exciting talent. Gonzalo Alvarado was the star of the 2023 youth intake.
A look across the Americas
Elsewhere in North and South America, here’s how the various leagues played out:
Argentina: River, Boca and Vélez are currently tied at the top on 37 points after 19 games, but Vélez ended up winning the 2022/23 campaign with River second and Gimnasia third.
Brazil: Flamengo regained the title they won in 2021, while reigning champions Corinthians finished fourth behind Santos and Palmeiras.
Canada: Atlético Ottawa were the new champions in 2023, defeating FC Edmonton, who were also runners-up last year, in the Playoff Final. Forge FC won the main league, with Ottawa finishing fourth out of the eight sides.
Chile: Universidad de Chile won the top tier by one point from Huachipato. Last year’s champions Colo-Colo finished eighth, having finished seventh in the first season. 10 of the 16 teams were docked six points for failing the under 21 rule! And, worryingly, both promoted sides were comfortably relegated.
Colombia: América de Cali won the league stage but were defeated by previous champions Nacional for the overall title.
México: Tigres won last year’s closing stage after Cruz Azul won the opening stage, and Monterrey won both the year before.
Peru: Sporting Cristal were champions, 15 points clear of Cantolao. But the big story was 2021 and 2022 champions Alianza Lima being relegated after being docked 24 points for breaking matchday squad rules! They would have been second without the points docking. While Universidad San Martín de Porres also would have finished second prior to also being docked 24 points. Carnage!
USA: Orlando City won the MLS Cup for the second time in three years, having finished sixth in the Eastern Conference! Cincinnati, led by top scorer Brenner, won the overall league but failed in the playoffs.
Uruguay: Penarol won the main league, three points clear of rivals Nacional. Both sides also reached the Champions Playoff, which Penarol also won.
Join us next time as Robinho Lazaró looks to rebuild his Deportes Puerto Montt side for his first taste of top-tier football. But will his overachievements start to attract interest from elsewhere?