By Tom Robinson.
The 2023 Uruguayan Primera season kicked off at the start of February with Nacional looking to defend their title. El Bolso will face strong competition from eternal rivals Penarol and their bolstered strike force, in what promises to be an engrossing contest.
As ever, the league also provides the platform for many of the exciting talents to shine. Several of last year’s top prospects have moved on, such as Thiago Borbas to RB Bragantino and Alan Matturro to Genoa, but the likes of Fabricio Diaz and Ignacio Sosa remain, for the time being.
Another exciting storyline to follow will be the return of Matias Arezo. On loan from Spanish side Granada, the 20-year-old already has four goals in three games for Penarol and will be looking to recapture the form he showed at River Plate.
Nevertheless, there will no doubt be the chance to see some new names rise to the fore. Being the charitable folk that we are, World Football Index picks out ten of the most interesting young players, under the age of 23, to keep an eye on this year.
Andres Ferrari (20) – Defensor Sporting
Defensor are a club with a great youth record and made up a big part of the Uruguay U20 squad that narrowly finished as runners-up at the recent Sudamericano.
Unfortunately, an injury in the final pre-tournament friendly ruled Ferrari out of the chance to link up with fellow Defensor attacking talents Anderson Duarte and Matias Abaldo in Colombia, but will be looking to bounce back from that disappointment.
As well as Ferrari’s good form for the U20s prior to the Sudamericano, he also finished as top scorer in the inaugural Copa Uruguay, with four goals in five games as Defensor lifted the trophy last year.
A quick, physical and clinical forward, Ferrari is already off the mark this season and – fittingly given his name – doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.
Santiago Mouriño (21) – Racing Montevideo
It’s early days but Racing’s young centre-back already looks primed to be one of the surprise packages of the season.
Released from Nacional’s youth setup, Mouriño dropped down to the second tier and helped Racing win promotion to the Primera last year.
Tall and impressive in the air, strong in the challenge but also quick across the ground and decent on the ball, he is already ranking highly in defensive duels, interceptions and headers won. Watch this space.
Luciano Rodriguez (19) – Liverpool
The revelation of the Sudamericano U20, Rodriguez dazzled in Colombia with his fearless dribbling, quick feet and long-range shooting.
While a lot of the pre-tournament focus was on namesake Alvaro, it was Lucho who stole the headlines, finishing with five goals and two assists in nine games as Uruguay were pipped to the title by Brazil in the final game.
Liverpool’s decision to sign him from second division side Progreso before the Sudamericano for a reported $466k now seems like a masterstroke and they have already slapped a $15m price tag on their new jewel.
Although Rodriguez has some top-flight experience already, there will be increased scrutiny on him as he returns to the Primera.
Fortunately, Liverpool have consistently been one of the better sides in the division, winning the 2022 Apertura and the 2023 Supercopa, and Rodriguez will be ably supported by fellow promises like Fabricio Diaz, Federico Pereira and Gaston Martirena, to name but a few.
Franco Fagundez (22) – Nacional
With the departure of Luis Suarez, a lot of the pre-season focus has been around the loan arrivals of Gaston Pereiro and Federico Martinez. However, perhaps more important to their chances of retaining their title will be forward Franco Fagundez.
The 22-year-old had a fantastic 2022, contributing 11 goals and five assists across all competitions. Equal parts finisher and creator, he was as comfortable dropping deep to bring others into the game or slip deft through balls in behind the defence as he was unleashing a shot from range.
European clubs are already interested and another good six months could seal a move across the Atlantic.
Sebastian Boselli (19) – Defensor Sporting
Such is the strength and depth of the Defensor academy that the entire list could have been filled with Violeta youth products.
Impressive defensive midfielder Lucas de los Santos and forward Diego Abreu – son of Sebastian – will feel hard done by, while Facundo Bernal and Matias Rocha both deserve a mention too.
Nevertheless, Sebastian Boselli’s defensive heroics at the Sudamericano U20 mean that he makes the cut.
While the imperious Facundo Gonzalez understandably took much of the limelight, he was perfectly complemented by the rock-solid Boselli, who ranked highest for successful aerial duels (79%) and interceptions per 90 (6.71). Has surely earned his right to be a regular starter for Defensor this year.
Joaquin Lavega (18) – River Plate
River Plate has been a great breeding ground for young attacking talent of late, with Matias Arezo, then Thiago Borbas and now Joaquin Lavega coming through for los Darseneros.
Named by the Guardian on their Next Generation 2022 list, Lavega is a fleet-footed, technical wide forward and should be pushing for more of a starting role.
Unlucky to miss out on a place in the Sudamericano squad to join up with teammate Juan Cruz de los Santos, a good season could put him in with a chance of making the U20 World Cup squad. If that wasn’t enough, also be sure to keep an eye out for Valentin Adamo, Ihojan Perez and Faustino Barrone too.
Diego Hernandez (22) – Wanderers
A rapid, direct winger capable of tormenting defences on either flank, Hernandez enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2022, scoring four and assisting six for Wanderers.
The 22-year-old boasts an excellent delivery, good close control and a decent shot and will be key to Los Bohemios this season. Hernandez has already got off to a flying start with two goals in as many games and more are sure to come. Honourable mentions also go to young left-back Kevin Rolon and forward Nicolas Ferreira too.
Cristian Olivera (20) – Boston River
One of the surprise packages of last year, Boston River’s performances in 2022 saw them make the qualifying rounds of this year’s Libertadores and they’ve built up a squad with some interesting talent.
Santiago Silva was ever-present in goal last year, Alexander Machado announced himself as a promising forward with six goals and Marco Mancebo looks to be a promising defender. On top of that Los Verdirrojos have U20 international Emiliano Rodriguez, midfielder Martin Fernandez, and have been bolstered by the arrival of Emiliano Gomez, still only 21.
However, the real touch of class that elevates them is Cristian Olivera. The 20-year-old looked back to his best in the second half of 2022 having failed to make the grade at Almeria and Penarol, recapturing the form he showed at Rentistas. With lightning pace and excellent dribbling, Olivera is a joy to watch.
Mateo Ponte (19) – Danubio
Another player who impressed at the recent Sudamericano U20, right back Ponte was one of Uruguay’s most consistent performers. A powerful runner, strong in the tackle and boasting an impressive throw-in, he will be looking to break into the Danubio first team this year.
Ponte aside, Danubio have a number of interesting youngsters on their books. On the opposite flank, Lucas Monzon is another promising full-back, while 18-year-old midfielder Santiago Silva impressed last year and diminutive magician Franco Gonzalez was another star performer at the Sudamericano.
Santiago Homenchenko (19) – Penarol
While a lot of the media attention on Penarol has revolved around the signings of Abel Hernandez and Matias Arezo, a number of their U20 Libertadores winning side are beginning to break through.
Attackers Nicolas Rossi, Maxi Alonso and Oscar Cruz are all starting to get more minutes, while Mathias de Ritis, Damian Garcia and Randall Rodriguez can’t be too far away from a first-team place after their impressive displays for Uruguay at the Sudamericano.
Perhaps the player from that cohort currently closest to making his breakthrough is multi-functional midfielder Santiago Homenchenko.
The youngest of 11 siblings, the 19-year-old has an impressive physical presence, covers a lot of ground and has the versatility to fulfil a manner of midfield roles, as well as being able to fill in at full-back. Quickly becoming a fans’ favourite, Homenchenko could well see his profile on the rise this year.