Pumas forward Nicolas Castillo (pictured) has scored two goals in his first four Liga MX games. (Photo: Luis Licona/Straffon Images)
MIAMI – With the opening of the 2016/17 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals fewer than two weeks away, which players are peaking in time to star on the region’s biggest club stage.
CONCACAF.com takes a look at five competitors making large impressions in the early stages of 2017 Clausura campaigns.
Nicolas Castillo, Forward, Pumas (2016/17 SCCL: joined Pumas after completion of group stage)
In between the Apertura and Clausura seasons, Pumas saw significant firepower depart as the 10-goal, six-assist SCCL output generated by Marcelo Alatorre, Saul Berjon, Eduardo Hererra, Fidel Martinez and Jose Alfonso Nieto now resides at other clubs. The subsequent questions asked after those exits, though, are seemingly being answered by Chile international Nicolas Castillo, who arrived in late December from Universidad Catolica. He has struck for a team-best two goals, both of which came in wins over Cruz Azul (1-0 home) and Necaxa (3-1 home).
Daniel Colindres, Forward, Saprissa (2016/17 SCCL: 4 games, 0 goals)
Colindres may have been sent off in the 42nd minute of Saprissa’s 2-1 win over Alajuelense on Sunday, but not before he inflicted a different kind of damage. The 32-year-old forward gave the Monstruo Morado a 1-0 lead in the third minute with his team-best third goal of the season. Saprissa is a perfect 3W-0D-0L when Colindres scores, with each of those games decided by one goal or fewer. He has one assist in four games during the 2016/17 SCCL, setting up Mariano Torres as Saprissa outraced Dragon, 6-0, on August 18, 2016.
Omar Gonzalez, Defender, Pachuca (2016/17 SCCL: 3 games, 0 goals)
After five 2017 Liga MX Clausura matches, Pachuca has conceded four goals. Defender Omar Gonzalez has played every minute of those outings, helping to keep the sixth-place Tuzos on track even though the offense has generated only one goal in its last three games. The 28-year-old United States international is taking part in his sixth Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League campaign, with the previous five coming as a member of the LA Galaxy.
Hirving Lozano, Winger, Pachuca (2016/17 SCCL: 3 games, 5 goals)
Lozano is the 2017 Liga MX Clausura’s joint-top scorer on three goals after five games. The 21-year-old winger has struck for half of Pachuca’s goals, netting three in a 4-2 win over host Leon on January 7. He has played every minute for the Tuzos, who have compiled a 2W-2D-1L record, good enough for sixth place.
Heiner Mora, Defender, Saprissa (2016/17 SCCL: 0 games, 0 goals)
After Saprissa captured the 2016 Costa Rican Invierno title, a pair of key defenders – Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United) and Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo) – left for Major League Soccer. Those personnel losses raised questions about the Monstruo Morado’s ability to repeat domestically and progress internationally. Many of those doubts have been answered by Mora, who has played the most minutes of any player on the roster this season, staying the field for 698 out of a possible 720 minutes. Saprissa is tied for second in goals conceded, allowing nine in eight games. Mora can take a lot of credit for the defensive end of the field’s early success.