An unexpected Major League Soccer success with New York Red Bulls saw Robinho Lazaró complete the second leg on his mission to conquer every top-tier league in the Americas. Only seven more to go!
The Colombian / Brazilian boss, now proudly wielding his Continental A Licence, swiftly handed in his resignation, went on the hunt for a new opportunity, and found himself on his way back to South America.
Who are River Plate Montevideo?
Club Atlético River Plate Montevideo is a professional team in the Liga Profesional de Prémier Division (or Torneo Uruguayo Copa Coca-Cola), the top tier of Uruguayan football. The main reason most of you have probably heard of River Plate Montevideo is it’s the club that produced wonderkid striker Matías Arezo, who’s moved on to Marseille in 2028.
The club has never been champion of Uruguay and has only been runner-up once in 1992, but finished third for the fifth time in 2025. Last season, they were predicted to come third but finished fifth and sacked their manager.
River Plate was founded on 11 May 1932 as a merger of two former clubs Olimpia and Capurro. The club’s managers established Olimpia Park as a home stadium, which was renamed Estadio Saroldi in honour of their first-ever goalkeeper, who died from an injury suffered during a match. The club still plays at the 6,224-capacity stadium, which FM believes is called Parque Federico Omar Saroldi, and has below-average training facilities, average youth training facilities and youth recruitment, and good academy coaching.
River Plate play in the Prado neighbourhood along with local rivals Bella Vista and Montevideo Wanderers, with whom they compete the three-way Clasico Del Prado matches. There were very little finances to work with, as the club had £440,000 in the bank, a transfer kitty of £150,000 and was spending £19,000 of a £35,000 wage budget.
Meet the River Plate Montevideo squad
The best player at the club is exciting 18-year-old winger Juan Manuel Vaz. Other key players are attacker Ignacio Pereira, who’s played 188 games in five years at the club, and 24-year-old attacker Kevin Alaniz. They also had a solid centre-back pairing of Lucas Monzón and Joaquín Sosa, along with 21-year-old goalkeeper Nicolás López, who just won the league’s rookie of the year award. While Lazaró’s only signing of the season was former Argentina international midfielder Matías Kranevitter, who becomes only the second non-Uruguayan at the club.
There was also plenty of exciting potential in addition to Vaz, with attacker Samuele Marino, full-back Walter Barreiro and winger Miguel Guerra all considered to be better prospects than him. That was boosted by an excellent youth intake, which strangely arrived a month before the season, that included four “elite talents and five “top talents.” The pick of those was striker Alberto Ramírez, who immediately became the best prospect at the club.
Wacky tactic time
The squad has an interesting mix of players, given it’s strong at centre-back but lacks midfielders and a right-back. While a lot of trust is being placed in an untried 18-year-old striker. With that in mind, Lazaró concocted a wacky tactic that he thought might play to the squad’s strengths. Welcome to “Chaosball” or, as Lazaró called it, “la Caosbola.”
The ‘thinking’ behind this bizarre-looking tactic was that the wide centre-back would cover the right-back area; the complete wing-back and shadow striker, who’s told to stay wider, will fill the vacant left-wing role; and the attacking midfielder, centre midfielder and holding midfielder act as a midfield trio. But will it work in practice? Let’s see…
First taste of Uruguayan football
The media expect River Plate Montevideo to finish fourth this season at 13/1 to win the title, with champions Nacional favourites at 5/4 followed by Penarol (5/1) and Montevideo Wanderers (9/1). Lazaró’s board only expect the side to finish in the top half of the 16-team league.
The first game of the Lazaró era took them to CA Rentistas. River Plate had the better of a poor first half and eventually got themselves in front through a free-kick by wing-back Pablo González. The hosts levelled with a very harsh last-minute penalty, only for debutant midfielder Martín Fernández, who joined on a free from rivals Wanderers at the end of last season, to score a 97th-minute winner off the bench!
The first home game was against 50-time national champion Penarol and they were really unlucky to lose 1-0 having had twice as much xG. But they bounced back to win 2-1 at CA Fénix with first goals of the season for striker Marino and attacking midfielder Agustín da Rocha, who was at it again with a brace in a 2-0 win over Cerrito. A first draw of the campaign followed at Boston River, in which winger Pablo Neris became the club’s all-time record league goalscorer with his 57th strike.
Lazaró had seen little from supposed star man Vaz and striker Marino yet. But the youngsters turned on the style as Marino bagged a hat-trick and Vaz scored and created two in a 5-1 thrashing of Juventud.
Lazaró got his second taste of the Copa Sudamericana (South America’s second-tier continental competition). And he was again very cruelly knocked out of the preliminary qualifiers by a team from his own league as they lost to Rentistas despite dominating both games.
Slight tactical tweak
The poor continental performance forced Lazaró to shift the attacking midfielder back to a central role and the first trial of that came at Montevideo City Torque. It seemingly freed up shadow striker Alaniz, who scored his first two goals of the season and created one for Marino in an excellent 3-0 success.
That teed up a big game against early leaders Liverpool FC and River Plate put in a stunning display. Two youngsters combined for the opener as Barreiro sent Marino through to coolly finish. And the exciting striker bagged another hat-trick alongside an Alaniz free-kick as they thrashed the leaders 4-1!
They had a few iffy away performances, but the home form was looking really impressive. That included a proud moment as homegrown defender Leonel Mello score his first River Plate goal in a 4-0 thumping of Maldonado, in which Vaz bagged a brace. They then welcomed champions Nacional on Lazaró’s 44th birthday, dominated the game and Marino eventually scored a deserved winner on 78 minutes.
The two players in the wing-back slot had been struggling ratings-wise, but González put that right with two assists in a 3-1 win at strugglers Atenas de San Carlos.
The opening stage concluded with a big derby clash at home to Wanderers, which turned out to be a bit of a classic. Another Marino double was answered by two Wanderers strikes, but centre-back Monzón stepped up with his first goal of the season to nick all three points after 79 minutes. And they concluded the opening stage with an eight-game unbeaten streak.
That saw River Plate jump up to finish third in the opening stage of the season, with 33 points from 15 games leaving them three points behind winners Liverpool FC. They were the top scorers in the league with 31 goals, but their 12 conceded was the most in the top seven!
Little Sammy Marino has already become one of Lazaró’s favourites. He’s the second-top scorer in the league, holding midfielder Leandro Pereira has the third-best average rating of 7.37 and González’s six assists is the third-most in the league. But to put Marino’s efforts in context, he’s still 18, earning £230-a-week and he’s bagged 11 goals and two assists in 15 league games.
Join us next time as Lazaró leads his River Plate Montevideo side into the absolute bizarreness that is the conclusion to the Uruguayan league.