Still reeling from 6-1 rout, Pumas eye payback for América

America players celebrate their victory over Pumas during the second round of semifinals of the Mexican Apertura tournament football match at the Azteca stadium on December 9, 2018, in Mexico City. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
America players celebrate their victory over Pumas during the second round of semifinals of the Mexican Apertura tournament football match at the Azteca stadium on December 9, 2018, in Mexico City. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images) /

The 150th edition of the Clásico Capitalino will occupy the attention of soccer fans across Mexico City (and beyond) on Sunday.

6-1 …

That’s what América did to the Pumas the last time these two Mexico City rivals met, in December. In the semifinals, no less.

6-1 …

The Pumas had been making fools of the pundits throughout the Apertura 2018. Coach David Patiño had UNAM near the top of the table for most of the stretch run toward the Liguilla and the Pumas finished a surprising third.

Despite the higher seed, oddsmakers still saw the No. 6 seed Tigres knocking the Pumas out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals. Nope. UNAM deservedly advanced, setting up a semifinal series with the hated Aguilas, looking for revenge. Just the previous season (the Clausura 2018), América had pummeled the Pumas in the quarterfinals, knocking them out on a 6-2 aggregate scoreline.

On Dec. 6, the Pumas came from behind to earn a 1-1 tie at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario. A decent result, but UNAM knew it had outplayed América for large stretches, so the Pumas were confident heading into Estadio Azteca on Dec. 9 for the second leg.

The return match was over before halftime, and América administered a mercy killing shortly after the resumption of play, scoring twice to make it 5-1 at the 50-minute mark. The aggregate score reached 7-2 and the bewildered Pumas trudged off the field, embarrassed and angry.

The Pumas still haven’t truly recovered from that beating.

Adios Patiño

Before the Clausura started, coach Patiño had expressed hope that management would sign a couple new faces to strengthen his overachieving roster. A few days after he made that statement, the front office issued a bulletin saying the team would stand pat, voicing confidence in the current roster and the academy players coming up through the system.

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That news appeared to deflate Patiño and the team – and its fans – continued to wallow in the misery of the 6-1 loss.

UNAM appeared to still be in a state of school as the Clausura 2019 kicked off. Their first three games were against the three worst teams from the Apertura (Veracruz – last place; Necaxa – 16th place; Atlas – 17th place) but they opened by going 0-2-1, losing at Necaxa and tying  both Veracruz and Atlas at home.

With the front office snooping around for a replacement coach, the Pumas traveled to Pachuca on Matchday 4, knowing coach Patiño’s job was on the line. They didn’t respond, losing to the Tuzos 1-0. Patiño was sacked the next day.

Former Pumas striker Bruno Marioni – a star on the 2006 back-to-back championship teams – was tabbed to take over and he has the Pumas facing the right direction. Counting a 2-1 Cup win over Atlas, UNAM has gone 2-1-0 under “Barullo” Marioni. But the Clásico Capitalino is a different animal, and Marioni knows that from his days as a Puma.

Expect a donnybrook

Sunday’s meeting will be the 150th edition of the Clásico Capitalino, a Mexico City showdown that began on July 1, 1962. The first game for the Pumas upon winning promotion to the First Division was against América, a 2-0 victory for the Aguilas.

Since then, the two clubs based in southern Mexico City have met 149 times in five different tournaments (Liga MX, playoffs, Copa MX, Champion Cup and a Libertadores qualifier). Overall, América has won 56 and the Pumas have won 36, with 57 ties.

The Pumas and Aguilas have met three times in the Finals with América winning the first two (1984-85 and 1987-88) and UNAM winning the Final in 1991 on a magical free kick by “Tuca” Ferretti (yes, the same “Tuca” who now coaches the Tigres).

Last year was not a good year for the Pumas. América posted a 3-3-0 record in their six derbies in 2018, with a 15 goals for and 6 goals against differential. Only one of those 3 wins came at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, however, and that was a 4-1 win in the Clausura 2018 quarterfinals.

Home-grown players

UNAM has developed a reputation for relying on its academy and producing stars through its youth system. Players such as Hugo Sánchez, Luis García, Alberto García Aspe, Claudio Suárez and Jorge Campos all came through the Pumas academy system.

On the other hand, América is represented as a club that spends big money on stars, both foreign and domestic. Even so, the Aguilas have been steadily producing high-quality players via its youth system. The most recent gem is 18-year-old Diego Lainez who this year move to Europe to play for Real Betis, scoring a Europa League goal against France’s Rennes on Thursday.

Despite these popular narratives, the greater number of “home-grown” players at the Clásico Capitalino will be wearing yellow.

Of the 29 players UNAM has on its roster, 11 came through their academy system. Of the 25 players on América’s roster, 16 were “Aguilitas.”

To his credit, América coach Miguel Herrera – much like his mentor, Ricardo La Volpe – is quite good a developing youngsters and giving them opportunities. And since the UNAM-América rivalry starts early in the youth level, the presence of so many academy players on the senior teams means the Clásico Capitalino features an intensity not found in other derbies.

Sunday’s edition should be another classic.