Guatemalan side Comunicaciones fell 3-1 to NYCFC in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final tilt. Comunicaciones have been on a bit of a tear lately. They won the CONCACAF League (CONCACAF equivalent of the Europa League) defeating traditional regional powerhouses Saprissa, Alianza, and Motagua along the way. They then stunned MLS Western Conference champions Colorado Rapids in the CCL round of 16, winning the 1-1 aggregate tie on penalties. So this game against NYCFC was an interesting chance to see how some of the players driving this success would handle a very high-level opponent. Sadly, two players I was particularly interested in did not play a part. Cuban international Karel Espino (20) has had trouble getting the necessary documents to play in the United States and Lynner Garcia (21) who has 10 goals and an assist in just under 1400 minutes of play does not seem to have been registered for the CCL for some reason. But I was able to watch two youngsters I found interesting in Oscar Santis and Manuel Gamboa. Also of note, this game was played in Hartford Connecticut because NYCFC’s stadium isn’t up to CONCACAF standards (they play in a baseball stadium that was only supposed to be temporary). Ostensibly this was NYCFC’s home leg but the crowd was full of Guatemalan flags and seemed to be decidedly behind Comunicaciones.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, re-watch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: Guatemalan
- Age: 22
- Date of Birth: March 25th, 1999
- Current Club: Comunicaciones
- Career: CD Suchitepequez, Comunicaciones
- Position: Winger
- Preferred Foot: Right
I was very curious to see how Santis would perform against an opponent of this level. He was a key part of Comunicaciones’ CONCACAF league-winning side, with 3 goals and 3 assists in a little over 600 minutes. In this match, Santis showed some of the abilities that make him a very effective player against opposition that is at a slightly lower level but also showed some of his limitations. Because I am not an expert in Guatemalan football I did a bit of background research on some of Comunicaciones’ players. This research made it clear that Santis’ game is built around a simple concept-if you keep whacking the ball in the direction of the goal then eventually something good will happen. Basically, all he does is cut inside and either cross or shoot. This game was no departure from that. Santis didn’t see much of the ball but when it did come to him he was usually crossing it. In fairness to him, he has a very good right-footed delivery and most of his crosses were well-weighted and into dangerous areas. The highlight was a chipped cross to Kevin Lopez at the top of the New York six-yard box that was headed just wide. He also did a really good job of positioning himself to receive passes during counterattacks. He was wide enough to stretch the New York defence and provide an outlet for the player on the ball but not so wide that he was ineffectual. But a cross-based game has its limitations. Mainly, you need a lot of attempts for any of them to lead to a goal. So in a game like this where Comunicaciones were mostly on the back foot, Santis’ effectiveness was limited. He did not offer very much in the buildup, mostly just passing the ball backward or getting shrugged off the ball when he attempted to dribble. Santis is small and not notably fast so he struggled a bit in physical battles. He put in a lot of defensive work but his aforementioned physical limitations meant he never really won the ball back.
So far Santis has 8 goals and 6 assists in the Guatemalan 21/22 season. Clearly, he is a very effective player at that level. But he is a very one-dimensional player and that will probably prevent him from reaching that much higher of a level. At the same time though, he is pretty good at the one dimension he offers. So if you’re a team on a budget whose strategy is built around whipping in crosses to a striker who is, like, 6’6 then you could do worse than Santis. I think he could play at a higher level than the Guatemalan league (quite a lot of leagues fall into this category) but MLS or Liga MX would probably be a step too far. He could represent a good option for a team in Costa Rica, USL, or a smaller team in Europe that needs the specific type of player that he is.
- Nationality: Panamanian
- Age: 23
- Date of Birth: February 5th, 1999
- Current Club: Comunicaciones
- Career: CD Universitario, CD Plaza Amador, Comunicaciones
- Position: Centre Back
- Preferred Foot: Right
Starting as a right centre-back Gamboa had a big chance to prove himself against one of the best strikers in MLS. He did show some upside. When he just had to be a defensive stopper, essentially the human equivalent of a cinder block, he did not look too bad. But when he was asked to do anything other than that things got out of hand pretty quickly. He had a lot of clearances and made several defensive interventions that were good. But he struggled mightily with the ball at his feet. His first touch was poor, his long passes were rarely accurate, and he sometimes hoofed the ball clear when there was a chance to keep possession. In one microcosmic moment he took the ball off of Talles Magno, then immediately gave the ball away, then won the ball back from the player he gave it away to, then gave it away again. He also was caught ball watching at times-most notably on New York’s first goal where Valentin Castellanos’ easily headed home with Gamboa seemingly totally unaware that he was there. He often played quite aggressively, stepping out of the backline to put pressure on New York attackers, but he was not all that successful at winning the ball back in these situations. Fortunately, he did show some really good pace to recover when he was caught out of position. He also scored Comunicaciones’ only goal. According to Transfermarkt this was the 8th goal of his professional career, which only began in 2019. So goal scoring is clearly something he can provide.
Gamboa did show some good defensive ability but also a lot of limitations. I think he will have a long career playing for good teams in Central America as a no-nonsense defender who chips in the occasional goal. But I didn’t see a lot to suggest that he will ever be anything more than that.