Welcome back to On the Break! In today’s post we’ll wrap up the 2024 season and hope to push on towards a first title of the save! If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, catch up HERE.
With Torque surprising everyone and finishing second in the Apertura table, we lucked out that Peñarol and Nacional were still kept separate, virtue of their third and fourth place finishes respectively. After our unbeaten Apertura campaign we were confident, bordering on fearless, but it’s still nice to only face one of them.
Not the dream start!
Okay, so we were never going to stay unbeaten all season, I know that. However, the friendlies we played between stages were solid; we beat familiar foes Juventud and Torque before a very impressive 2-0 win over Argentinian Primera División Tigre, and yet here we just couldn’t get going. It was just one game though, and we did okay for the rest of the stage.
The defeat to Peñarol was obviously another disappointment, but we’re still striving to match their level, so we have to accept that sometimes they will just overpower us. The rest of the stage was solid, with a solitary blip away at Juventud, who we had stuck five past in our friendly, so that rankled a bit.
All of that left us third in our group, with the River Plate defeat giving them the impetus to go on and finish above us. Most worryingly though, was Nacional’s obliteration of group B, with maximum points gained and the gap in the overall table cut from 14 points to 6. They also leapfrogged Peñarol, who now sat a point behind in third, 7 points behind us at the top.
During the Intermedio I took the decision to loan a few players out to get them some regular game time; Matías Dufour was stagnating and went out to Cerrito, joined by youngster Christian Colman. Fellow intake graduates Diego de los Santos and Alejandro Silvera also went out, to Torque and Segunda División side Central Español respectively, and new signing Yerson Solís went to Rampla Juniors with the aim of keeping them in the division. We’d had a few niggling injuries to our reserve keepers and Santiago Mele is a mainstay in the Uruguay squad at this point, so long time target Andrés Mehring was brought in on a free transfer to add a more experienced backup keeper to the mix and allow Dufour to get some game time elsewhere.
We also lost Nicolás Larrosa, who had just started to make a few first team appearances, on a pre-contract agreement to Wanderers. We offered him a deal to stay, a deal better than he accepted at Wanderers in actual fact, but he made his decision to leave and there’s nothing we can do. He’s a fine prospect and will have a great career at this level if not higher I’m sure, so of course I’m gutted, but we have some equally fine central defenders in our youth system to step into his place.
Crunch time. If we could win the Clausura stage then the title would be ours, no questions asked. If not, at least we had the Champions Playoff to fall back on… but I didn’t want to take that chance.
We started really well, a couple of late goals turned looming defeats against Peñarol and Plaza Colonia into draws, and with 7 games left we were still unbeaten with a front three in fine form, but Nacional were also on fire, and had gained two more points on us to take the gap down to four.
The blip was bound to come at some point, it has every year, and by our standards it wasn’t that bad, but with so much on the line we needed to be perfect and we were far from it. Atenas were the surprise package this season, staying comfortably in the top half all season after gaining promotion, but defeat to them was still a disappointment. The killer blow though was the run of three games without a win, starting with a blockbuster game away at Nacional. We went 2-0 up in 12 minutes, were level at 2-2 by half-time, went behind to a contentious penalty and had a man sent off, only to snatch a draw with a 90th minute equaliser. At that point we were still holding Nacional off and were a point above them, but Wanderers and Juventud stopped us in our tracks, giving Nacional the advantage in the Overall Table for the first time. We finished the season with two wins, but by then Nacional had the momentum and won the Clausura, meaning we had to go into the Championship Playoff for the first time.
The biggest game of the save so far!
I genuinely don’t remember the last time I was so nervous for a match in any edition of FM. This team is on the cusp of becoming a force, at least domestically, and this was the game that could really prove it. A first league title, only the fifth in the club’s history, would be a real warning shot to Peñarol and Nacional, a message that we aren’t going anywhere, and a real catalyst to push on and make an impact on the continent.
I was cagey, twitching and gasping at the start of every highlight, but the game wasn’t. It was end-to-end, with Nacional having the lion’s share of the chances. We were doing well to limit the amount of quality chances they were creating, but they were coming forward at regularity and we were struggling to get the ball from them.
We came into the game a bit more in the second half, getting on the ball a bit more and creating some more chances. By 67 minutes Martín Rabuñal and Matías Ocampo had both run their race, they had nothing left to offer, so they made way for Christian Schneider and Canela, a definite drop in quality. The momentum we had built up dropped, play became sloppy and we were being pushed back. Nacional were on the ascendency again, and at this point I was resigned to extra time, and the possibility of penalties.
That’s exactly how it went. 120 gut-wrenching, nervy, goalless minutes came and passed, and after 38 games the title was going to be decided with the lottery of a shootout.
Our takers are awful, it’s a definite weakness in the squad that I need to address. The boys all seemed confident though, none of them showing any negative body language in the pre-shootout team talk, a new feature for FM21. I set my takers, and sent the boys out to do decide our fate.
1. Benjamín Rodríguez – Pens 10, Comp 13
2. Christian Schneider – Pens 10, Comp 10
3. Pablo López – Pens 7, Comp 8
4. Mauro García – Pens 6, Comp 10
5. Guillermo Varela – Pens 7, Comp 12
I can’t stand watching penalty shootouts, in FM or real life. You should have seen the state I was in as Eric Dier stuck his away against Colombia! I don’t bother slowing the replays down, changing the camera angle, any of that… I just want it done. It was over in about 2 minutes, it felt like forever.
Two missed kicks from Christian Schneider and Guillermo Varela are how short we fell. From Gameweek Three we were top for 30 weeks, before Nacional finally chased us down and then took the title away from us at their last possible opportunity.
I’d love to say that despite everything we were the best team in the league and got unlucky with a dip in form at the end, but that isn’t true. We dominated the Apertura, winning it by the biggest margin of any stage win of the save so far, but Nacional were 100% in the Intermedio and matched our Apertura performance in the Clausura, so there’s no doubt they’re worthy champions. What I can take from this season though, is the amount of progress we’ve made, how close we came to the title, and a feeling of needing to right a wrong. This title was ours for the taking and we let it slip through our grasp, but the squad is still young, and we’ll come back next year stronger.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
The squad needs a massive overhaul next season, no doubt about it. That’s a conclusion I drew somewhere around the end of the Intermedio, and wasn’t going to change based on how we did in the rest of the season. We used 32 players throughout the season, and have a first-team squad with 27 players, both amounts that are too high. When everyone is fit we have a very settled first eleven, which means first-team players either losing all sharpness or playing reserves football, which then stunts the progress of the youth sides. The dead wood needs to go, and we have a lot of it. There are players in the youth squads that need to be promoted and play for us next season, they’re too good to play reserves football or go out on loan now. De los Santos is one at right-back, but up front we have a real dilemma.
Pablo López was the top scorer in the division for the second year running, ably supported by Ocampo and Rodríguez out wide, but we didn’t have anybody else in double figures. Well we did, but not for us. Christian Colman and Yerson Solís impressed out on loan, both providing over 10 goal contributions at a rate higher than 1 in 2. They’ll be involved, and so I hope will Ramiro Centurión, who has come on leaps and bounds and has 33 goals and 13 assists in 38(12) youth/reserve games. That’s four strikers competing for one place though, not including Nahuel Paiva who played in 20 games (although only 7 starts) this season, but took 18 games to score his first senior goals. It also doesn’t include Maxi Juambeltz, Facundo Milán or Matías Kusmanis who have all been second choice striker at one point or another in the save.
See what I mean about dead wood? That’s not even covering the issues I have at CM or trying to get some younger CB’s into the side!
We should hopefully have another successful youth intake, the preview looks good again and we’ve been very well blessed in the save so far. Although if I really do get two more promising forwards the squad may pop!
That’s it for now, 2024 will be remembered as the year that we came so close but so far, now we need to make sure we make 2025 the year we finally step up and lift the league title!
Thanks for reading.