Santos Laguna earned their first points of InterLiga 2010 on Saturday night, beating Atlante 3-0 at The Home Depot Center. Two goals from Daniel Ludueña and a third from Matias Vuoso were the difference as the Guerreros leapt back into contention for a spot in the finals.
The win moves Santos into third place in group A. Santos were eliminated, however, with Estudiantes Tecos claiming the final spot.
"We're really pleased with the result tonight," said Santos defender Carlos Morales. "The team keeps getting better and better, and I think we have the room to continue to improve. Each day we're getting stronger and working better within the system that [Santos Head Coach] Ruben [Romano] has designed."
Atlante charged out of the gate in Saturday's match, forcing two saves from Santos goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez within the first four minutes of play. The first chance came from Fernando Navarro who ripped a shot toward net after a clever give-and-go with teammate Christian Bermudez in the 3rd minute. The shot was only just tipped onto the crossbar by a leaping save from Sanchez.
Navarro would again cause problems for Santos just one minute later, this time streaking past his defender down the right side and drilling a low shot that richocheted off Sanchez's chest.
Atlante continued to control the tempo of play as the match passed the quarter-hour mark, relying heavily on the pace and passing of the team's outside midfielders. Santos' offense looked potent on a few quick counterattacks, but the team struggled to maintain any long spells of possession.
"We played very well in the first half," said Atlante forward Rafa Márquez. "We passed the ball well and played with pace. We were a bit flat in the second half and once they scored their first goal, it became harder to keep pace as we tried to chase the game."
The Guerreros finally put a shot on net 20th minute thanks to some quick movement in the midfield from Ludueña. The Argentine collected a loose ball at the center circle and found Carlos Morales on the right side of the box with a long pass. Morales took a hard shot that bounced off the legs of a defender and fell to Santos striker Vuoso. Vuoso chipped a high ball over the head of Atlante 'keeper Federico Vilar but his effort sailed wide of the net.
Santos continued pressuring the Atlante defense and nearly broke the deadlock with a pair of corner kicks in the 35th and 36th minute. The first cross came in from the right side and was met in the air by Walter Jimenez. Jimenez headed down toward the right post, but his effort was cleared off the line by Fernando Navarro.
The second cross came in from the left side. Matias Vuoso did well to flick the ball toward net with a glancing header, but the shot skimmed just past the far post for a goal kick.
Santos Laguna continued their momentum early in the second half, finally finding the back of the net in the 52nd minute. The play started when Guerrero midfielder Walter Jimenez received a pass on the top of the Atlante box and quickly found Vuoso at the penalty spot. Vuoso pushed past his defender before sidestepping the goalkeeper and calmly slotting the ball home for a 1-0 lead.
Santos would double their lead just 3 minutes later, again relying on some magic from Vuoso. The Argentina native was the provider this time, finding Ludueña on the left side of the area with a clever pass from the corner. Ludueña outraced his defender and drilled a low shot toward the near post that slipped past the 'keeper to make it 2-0.
"We played good soccer and we played with confidence," said Morales. "We created some good opportunities for ourselves and fortunately, we were able to contain a lot of their attacks. It was a tough game, but we just tried to play our style and focus on the little things."
Atlante almost pulled one back at the hour mark. Jose Gonzalez lined up for a direct kick on the top right corner of the box and sailed a good cross into the area. Daniel Arreola leaped high into the air and hit a good header toward the lower left corner of the goal, but Santos 'keeper Oswaldo Sanchez was only just able to keep the ball out of the net with a diving save.
"I think the team had a good mentality but things just didn't go our way tonight," said Márquez. "We would have liked to have given ourselves a better shot at getting to that second round, but sometimes it doesn't fall where you want it to."
Any momentum Atlante had gained was quickly squelched in the 62nd minute when Ludueña struck again for his second goal. This time it was Juan Pablo Rodriguez who provided the assist, finding Ludueña on the left side of the box. Ludueña nailed a high shot into the top right corner of the net to take his side ahead 3-0.
Santos moved in a period of steady possession as the game wore down to a close, relying on the fresh legs of substitutes Carlos Quintero and Carlos Ochoa for a bit of pace. Atlante struggled to get anything going offensively, as much of their attack was broken up in the midfield by plucky defensive work from Santos.
The game came to a close with Santos having done all they could to earn a spot in the finals. But they were eliminated by Estudiantes Tecos' result with Club America.
"We stayed positive and did the best we could to put ourselves in a good position," said Morales. "Now all we can do is wait for the result of the América game and hope for the best. If it doesn't work out for us, we can be happy with the way we played tonight."
Jeffrey King is a contributor to InterLiga.com.