An interesting tactical gamble was working nicely as Robinho Lazaró led his River Plate Montevideo side to a third-place finish in the opening stage of the Uruguayan top-tier. However, things were about to get pretty confusing.
That’s because the Uruguayan league splits into two ‘Intermedio’ groups, in which teams seemed to be randomly selected. All 16 teams then reconverge for the closing stage of the league. Very different!
The Intermedio period followed a month without games, in which the transfer window opened. River Plate received a mass of derisory bids for youngsters, which forced Lazaró to set “reject all transfer offers” against all of them. But they did allow left-wing-back Pablo González to join Penarol as his contract was running down and captain Ignacio Pereira, who hadn’t played a single game, joined Toronto FC for an obscene £250,000. That money was vital as the club was hemorrhaging money.
However, they did manage to strengthen with Paraguayan attacking midfielder Lucas Nunez, who came in on a free from Argentine side Excursionistas.
Intermedio Group A
The next stage of the league began with a 2-2 at Danubio. That was followed by a huge 3-1 rival victory over Wanderers, in which exciting striker little Sammy Marino bagged a brace. Then a 1-0 win at CA Cerro was backed up with much-deserved 2-1 away wins at Plaza Colonia, decided by a late strike from winger Juan Manuel Vaz, then Juventud.
A fifth successive win in the Intermedio took River Plate to a 14-game unbeaten streak. That teed up a big clash with top of the league Liverpool FC. A tight game saw Liverpool have the most chances but Marino stepped up to score the only goal. And that broke the club’s record winning streak with six in a row! It also saw them finish top of the group and into the Intermedio Final at Penarol. How bizarre.
River Plate made a flying start to the big game as centre-back Lucas Monzón headed home after seven minutes. Yet again, they were second-best for most of the game but attacking midfielder Kevin Alaniz curled in a delicious free-kick to double the lead on 69 minutes. Penarol got a late consolation but they held on to win the Intermedio Final! But despite picking up a trophy, it doesn’t actually show in their trophy cabinet or as a cup win on Lazaró’s record.
Into the Closing Stage
The baffling layout of the Uruguayan league saw River Plate tied at the top of the league on 52 points with Penarol and Liverpool FC in the 22 games of the combined league. But 15 still remained ahead of a playoff series, and they begin it only three wins short of the club record in a season!
The closing stage started with the annihilation of Rentistas, battering them with 22 shots and three goals in the first half. And they eventually won 4-0 led by a Marino brace and this naughty Vaz finish. They backed that up with their best performance yet to win 3-2 at Penarol led by another Marino double. And that win broke the league’s all-time consecutive wins record with nine on the bounce!
The River Plate boys were absolutely on fire with a club record-equalling 18 unbeaten since Lazaró tweaked to the more solid version of “la Caosbola.” A nervy 2-1 win over Fénix with 10 men saw them beat the club record unbeaten streak, then a 1-0 success at Cerrito smashed the club record for most wins in a season (21).
However, they suddenly capitulated to a 3-0 defeat at home to Boston River, despite having more shots. But an immediate opportunity to get back on track came at Juventud, who’d lost eight on the bounce, and they did with a 3-0 win led by an Alaniz brace. They then beat Montevideo City Torque 5-3 in a crazy game in which six goals came from the first 10 shots and Marino scored this outrageous no-look finish.
They began to drop points as players tired toward the end of the season but were still right in the mix going into a massive game at leaders Nacional. They flew into a 2-0 lead through Vaz and Marino but conceded two in four minutes early in the second half and it finished 2-2, which will frustrate Nacional given they had 2.15 xG to 0.76!
The season concluded with a Clásico Del Prado clash at Wanderers with Real Plate in with a chance of winning the Closing Stage and the overall league. It started well as Alaniz hit a trademark curler from 20 yards. Wanderers came back into it and equalised after the break but that man Alaniz stepped up again to hit an even better strike from 25 yards to nick three points.
That saw River Plate finish second in the closing stage level with Nacional on 36 points. But, crucially, they finished top of the overall league table with 88 points from 37 games. The final day win saw them set a new league record for most wins a season (28) along with seven draws and three defeats, while they scored 77 and conceded 32. But the league continued to get more confusing.
That league position must have been crucial as River Plate hosted Nacional in the closing stage champions playoff game. Games between the two teams this season had been tight, with River Plate winning the home game 1-0 then drawing 2-2 away. But Nacional had the league’s best player Thiago Vecino, who’d scored 36 in 35! And he proved the difference with the only goal of a poor game.
Lazaró presumed their season was done but River Plate bizarrely got a second chance. Nacional progressed to play Liverpool FC and lost 1-0. And that set up a two-legged Final – which this time was actually a Final! – with Liverpool FC, who they’d beaten in all three meetings this season.
The away leg was first up and River Plate dominated the first half with eight shots to zero. Alaniz eventually made the breakthrough with a delicious free-kick then tapped home a second. And, ridiculously, they prevented Liverpool FC from having a single shot! Three days later, the return leg saw Liverpool FC have two shots in the first 10 minutes but nothing happened in the first half. However, they got themselves back into the tie just after the hour mark only for that man Alaniz to step up yet again with his 20th goal of the season. And it finished 1-1.
River Plate Montevideo were Champions of Uruguay for the first time in their history!!
There were several key performers this season, led by 19-year-old striker Marino, who scored a new club record 25 goals in 43 games but struggled for form at the end of the campaign. As he dipped, Alaniz stepped up and finished with 20 goals in 41. Also crucial was right-winger Vaz, who set a new club and league record 16 assists along with eight goals, which won him fans’ player and young player of the season.
Surprise performers were holding midfielder Leandro Pereira, who averaged 7.24 with three goals and six assists, and veteran midfielder Matías Kranevitter, who’s retiring after a stellar campaign of six goals and four assists that won him the league’s Best Rookie Player award!
Lazaró won the league’s Manager of the Year award, Alaniz was second in Player of the Year, Marino was second in Top Goalscorer and Vaz won Young Player of the Year.
A look across the Americas
Argentina: Boca continue to dominate, leading by five points from River at the halfway stage having won the last four titles.
Brazil: Gremio won their first title since 1996, finishing three points clear of Santos. Lazaró’s former club Palmeiras were down in fifth but two of his signings Garcés and Sosa were wanted by Liverpool and Chelsea! And 37-year-old Brenner scored 33 in 64 matches.
Chile: Colo-Colo won the league, finishing 10 points clear of Católica. Sadly, Puerto Montt finished bottom of the league and were relegated back to the second tier.
Colombia: Atlético Nacional were champions after Junior FC won the Clausura stage. Nacional defeated América de Cali in the Finalización final.
México: Tigres just won the Clausura stage and Deportivo Guadalajara won the Apertura. Puebla finished the season down in 14th place.
Peru: Alianza Lima won a third successive title, finishing four points clear of Sporting Cristal after only losing once all season.
Uruguay: Nacional won their sixth title in nine years since Lazaró won the league with River Plate, finishing six points clear of Penarol. River Plate climbed to third, some 18 points back from Nacional.
USA: A Canadian side won MLS as CF Montréal beat Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the MLS Cup Final. NYRB improved to eight in the Eastern Conference, just one point outside the playoffs.
Aventuras Américas next steps
With the Uruguayan title joining Chile and USA in Robinho Lazaró’s trophy collection, he could have been forgiven for immediately departing River Plate. However, he still had six months on his contract, while the club appointed a new chairman who immediately granted the manager his wish to begin studying for his Continental Pro Licence. So he contemplated sticking around to have a first real stab at continental competition.
However, just as he was mulling that over, New England met Alaniz’s £450,000 minimum fee release clause then América de Cali’s boss resigned at the end of the season. He applied and the media immediately made him 6/5 favourite. Eventually, he was invited for an interview based on his “experience of winning silverware.”
Two weeks passed and he was beginning to fear the worst. But the Cali board must have been out partying over Christmas, as they eventually asked Lazaró for backroom staff changes on 2 January 2029. And a contract offer swiftly followed that would triple his wages to £2,900-per-week, while handing him a massive £6.5 million transfer budget! So Lazaró, of course, was heading home.
Join us next time as Robinho Lazaró heads to his homeland of Colombia for the first time as a Football Manager!