Welcome back to On the Break! If you aren’t up to date with the series, click HERE to see how the first half of the 2026 season went. There’s a lot to cover in this post; league form, the Sudamericana, and even some transfer dealings! We best get a move on!
We had a strong showing in the Apertura, just 2 points behind Nacional and Peñarol, in stark contrast to last year where we finished 5th and looking really poor. At a time where we needed the Intermedio to turn our form around last season we failed – 1 win in 7 games was an awful showing and the definite low point. This year the Intermedio is just as crucial, but this time to show we’re in the title hunt; good form is paramount.
Well well well, the strikers show up and we’re near perfect; who knew! After a chat with Chris (Guest author and now unofficial and unpaid Defensor advisor!) I had a think about what I wanted from my striker; the whole side are knocking the ball around and creating chances, the wingers both cut inside from their flanks, so all I really need is a guy there to stick the ball in the net. With this in mind I changed the role to a poacher, and clearly we’re reaping the benefits right now with Solís bagging 5 in 7 games. Despite the defeat away at Danubio, our 5-0 spanking of Peñarol saw us top our group and head into the Intermedio final.
Our opponents? Come on, do I even need to tell you?
Nacional, as expected, romped their group and stand between us and a second Intermedio win of the save. So far in three games against the big two this season we’re unbeaten, so confidence was high going into the game.
Pffft. For the second time Nacional have beaten us on penalties, although this one hurts a lot less than the last time. I’d like to be in the Uruguayan Super Cup next year, but it’s not the be all and end all; much more important is the fact that we kept pace at the top of the table.
I wasn’t expecting to do much transfer business once the season was underway, and in reality the squad for this year didn’t change a huge amount – but it needs talking about.
Víctor’s gone, off to China for £2million. You may recall I said I wanted a minimum of £5m for him – I forgot about a release clause in his contract. 🙃 He went to the World Cup this year (so did Santiago Mele, more on that later) so his reputation was at an all time high, even though he didn’t get onto the pitch. As soon as Guangzhou were interested it was game over. Hércules came in as a mid-season replacement, a decent winger with good potential. He’s how I imagined Valenzuela would be when he joined, someone who wouldn’t play much at first buy may grow into a sellable asset.
In other news, we’re losing a couple of players on pre-contract deals. Maximiliano Kusmanis is an okay prospect, but was unhappy when I broke a promise to find him a loan move (oops!) and didn’t want to renew his contract – I don’t think he’s making it to the level we need anyway honestly. The other is a far more important name, club captain Martín Rabuñal. He’s off to Austrian side LASK Linz to pick up a pay packet before his career ends, he’s definitely earned it and I wish him the best. He hasn’t played as much lately but has still been reliable when called upon, if I could have re-signed him on around the same as his current £1.2k p/w wage I probably would have, but Linz are going to pay him £6k p/w – I wasn’t willing.
We’ve agreed some pre-contracts of our own, some more exciting than others, but you’ll see them next time out!
Last year we were excellent in the Sudamericana after dropping down from the Libertadores. We reached the semi-finals, only losing out to eventual winners River Plate, and it was honestly the only positive of a very disappointing season. We left this season’s campaign 4 games into the group stage last time out, with two of our hardest ties left to play.
Winning these games saw us top the group, something I didn’t expect us to do at the start. Qualifying so comfortably is a great sign, although there are definitely harder tests to come.
The semi-finals again, and this time I think we had a real shot of winning the whole thing. We weren’t at our best against Melgar, a side we blew away 7-1 on aggregate last year, but we comprehensively outplayed them in the second leg and should have had it tied up long before Poggi’s 92nd minute goal. We were much better against Sport Boys Warnes, scoring 5 away goals in the first leg to all but wrap the tie up before a rotated side sealed the deal with a 1-0 home win.
Then the big one, Grêmio. By my reckoning they were the strongest side left in the competition at this point, and I felt if we could somehow progress then we had a really good chance against either Independiente del Valle or Vitória. We were excellent in the first leg, Poggi getting sent off in the 27th minute really left us in the lurch, but we stuck in there and went ahead through Yerson Solís; unfortunately a last minute Jeremias goal gave them the advantage going into the second leg, and we couldn’t get at them enough in Brazil to squeak through. A 1-0 defeat saw our run come to an end again, but again we held our own against one of the most reputable sides in South America, although I did underestimate Vitória as they went on to beat Grêmio in the final. Our aim every year is the Libertadores, no doubt about it, but if we do end up in the Sudamericana again next year I truly believe we could win it if the draw favours us.
With the season looking good so far, we found ourselves going into the final 15 games of the season with a chance of winning our first title. Peñarol won the Apertura after beating Nacional in a play-off game (these occur when two sides finish level on points in a stage) so they know they’re in the Championship play-off come what may. The ideal scenario for us would be to get there too, but also deny Nacional a way in. If we win the Clausura but Nacional finish top of the Overall Table, or vice versa, there will be a three way play-off for the title for the first time in the save.
We took one game to shake off the disappointment of the Intermedio final defeat, we were awful against River Plate but Cristian Schneider saved us, as he did a few times this season. After that though, we went on a truly sensation run of form, 7 consecutive wins, 5 clean sheets in that time and a nail-biting victory over Nacional. In this period we dropped just 2 points, compared to 10 for Peñarol and 8 for Nacional. Game on.
7 games, not a single goal from a striker. I don’t know what’s happened to them this year, but we’d have won the league at a canter if even one of them had performed consistently. We were the better side against Peñarol and probably deserved to win, but I wasn’t too upset to maintain the gap between us. From there it went downhill, and by the time we went to Deportivo Maldonado and lost, we had been overtaken in the Overall Table by Nacional. We kept our composure enough to go to Wanderers and win on the final day, which kept us top of the Clausura table and therefore put us into the Championship play-off. However, Nacional also won, meaning we entered a three way Championship play-off with the two biggest sides in Uruguay, the situation I dreaded the most.
Nacional, as the Overall Table leaders, go straight into the play-off final – A reward for their consistency over the whole season, since they didn’t win either stage. That means we play Peñarol for the right to face them in the final, but for reasons I haven’t been able to establish, we have to play them in their own backyard. It seems destiny wants to shoot us down, but so far in three games against them this year we’re unbeaten, so I give us a decent chance.
It wasn’t meant to be this year. We actually have a better overall record in our head-to-head with Peñarol, but we’d only won one of the last 7 games against them before this one and never really looked like threatening them. We kept the ball well, as we have done all season, but with malfunctioning strikers Peñarol were able to hold us at arm’s length, and once they scored after 22 minutes my confidence went entirely.
After how last season went, the goal for this year was simply to get back in to that top three, even if we were a mile off the big two. We did that and then some, finishing second and genuinely being in the title race for the entire season. I have to believe that the issues with the strikers are just down to a bad year, although I will play with the system over pre-season to see if I can do anything to improve their output. Nahuel Paiva comes back into the squad next season too which will be a huge boost, he ended the season as the league’s joint top scorer with 21 goals.
IN OTHER NEWS
There are a few extra bits that I wanted to mention at the end of the post, just a few points to have developed throughout the season.
As well as Nahuel Paiva out on loan, Cristian Schneider really came into his own this season. 8 goals and 11 assists from 23(10) appearances, including some vital winning goals. He was particularly excellent in the second half of the season playing as the Mez(A) often keeping Luciano Boggio out of the side. Boggio has been attracting interest from China (where else?) and I’ve rejected bids of £1.5m in the hopes of getting more, but with Schneider playing so well I may take what I can get and promote Cristian to first choice.
I mentioned earlier in the post that Santiago Mele went to the World Cup, but he was in fact their first choice at the tournament, playing every game as they went out to Germany in the third round. He isn’t going to stay their first choice, Diego Alfonso will be the man in possession for the next decade, I’m sure of it. He was available on a pre-contract last year and we offered him a deal, but sadly he chose Nacional over us. The latest Uruguay squad contained both Mele and Matias Dufour though, something I’m strangely proud of considering he started the save as our Reserves backup.
Speaking of Uruguay call-ups, both Diego de los Santos and Ramiro Centuríon have now made their debuts, with Ramiro grabbing a goal on his debut. This has undoubtedly raised their profile, especially Centuríon, who is wanted by PSG. We’re in a far stronger position with their contracts though; a couple of years left on each deal, no release clause in Diego’s and a £10m clause in Ramiro’s. Given his relatively poor form this season, now could be the perfect time to try and get that £10m, although it will definitely make us weaker in the short term.
Lastly, the money we received for Víctor Valenzuela has been put to good use, with the board agreeing to upgrade the training facilities. It won’t bring them in line with our ‘Great’ youth facilities, but it’ll get them closer, and hopefully help us to take our players to the next level.
That’s it for this post, a lot covered, but a really good season. We’re back on track, but I’m not counting my chickens – we need to figure out how to get the better of Nacional and Peñarol on a more regular basis, and maybe then we might finally win the title!
Thanks for reading.