From the vault: 15 years ago, the Pumas reigned (Part II)

MONTERREY, MEXICO: The players of Pumas, celebrate with trophy after the game the cup fnal of the tilt gains opening 2004, In Monterrey-Mexico, 12 December 2004. AFP PHOTO/Juan BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
MONTERREY, MEXICO: The players of Pumas, celebrate with trophy after the game the cup fnal of the tilt gains opening 2004, In Monterrey-Mexico, 12 December 2004. AFP PHOTO/Juan BARRETO (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images) /

UNAM celebrated its 50th anniversary in style by winning back-to-back titles in 2004.

No doubt about it … 2004 was a GREAT year to be a Pumas fan.

Fifteen years ago this summer, the Pumas turned 50 years old (founded on Aug. 2, 1954) and were preparing to defend the Liga MX championship they won by defeating the Chivas in a penalty kick shoot-out. Hugo Sánchez would go on to guide his Pumas to back-to-back titles, easing past Monterrey in the Apertura 2004 final to claim UNAM’s fifth Liga MX trophy.

Though those seasons are a decade-and-a-half in the rear-view mirror, many participants from those two finals are very familiar to today’s Liga MX fans. Before finishing the series by enumerating some of those names and faces (Part III), we’ll take a quick look at the two memorable finals (Parts I and II).

Apertura 2004: Pumas vs Monterrey

The defending champions Pumas had an entire summer to celebrate their Clausura 2004 title and the hangover lasted well into the season.

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UNAM’s offense went from free-flowing to free-falling. The Pumas scored 17 fewer goals in the Apertura than in the Clausura. Their difficulties stemmed primarily from the loss of their leading scorer – Bruno Marioni was sold to Spain’s Tenerife – and the season-long slump of striker Francisco “Kikín” Fonseca.

The Pumas also benefited from the controversial group system in which the top two teams from each group were guaranteed a spot in the Liguilla, regardless of point totals. UNAM finished ninth overall, but qualified as the No. 8 seed (with a 7-2-8 record), thanks to the quirky system.

In the playoffs, their pedigree returned. UNAM shocked top-seeded Veracruz 4-1 in the quarterfinals, led by two goals by Bolivian newcomer Joaquín Botero who scored twice.

In the semifinals, the Pumas exploded for 6 goals, wiping out fourth seed Atlas as Kikín Fonseca found the net in each game after going the entire regular season without scoring once. Botero also scored twice and UNAM romped into the finals, eager to defend its title. Waiting for them was Monterrey and league scoring champion Guillermo Franco (15 goals).

The first leg took place at Estadio Olímpico Universtario in Mexico City on Dec. 8 and Franco quickly showed why he was the Apertura 2004 MVP, scoring in minute 21, his sixth goal of the playoffs. The Pumas were reeling and went into the locker room at the half, their fans nervous and concerned.

Pumas coach Hugo Sánchez decided to make a change, inserting little-used David Toledo in midfield in place of Gonzalo Pineda. Toledo – a skinny kid from Juchitán, Oaxaca – had only played in 10 of 18 regular season games and had not seen the field since the first leg of the quarterfinals against Veracruz.

Five minutes after the restart, captain Joaquín Beltrán got free at the near post on a corner kick and flicked a header over goalie Juan de Dios Ibarra to even the score. The raucous Pumas fans found their voice again and the stadium starting rocking.

Pumas vs Monterrey 2004
Joaquín Beltrán celebrates after scoring against Monterrey in the final of the Apertura 2004 season. PHOTO: ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP / Getty Images) /

The game ebbed and flowed until minute 81 when Leandro Augusto passed to Israel Castro on the right flank and Castro, with time, lifted a cross into the middle of the box. Toledo snuck in unnoticed and bounced a header into the net at the back post to give UNAM a 2-1 lead that held up until the final whistle.

The Rayados hosted the second leg on Dec. 11, eager to win their second title in 18 months. But Hugol had other ideas.

The Pumas were determined to smother Guille Franco and central defenders Beltrán and Darío Verón never gave the Argentine striker space to breath. Meanwhile, Kikín dropped back deep, often playing as an extra defensive midfielder, frustrating Monterrey and their coach Miguel Herrera.

Two minutes into the second half, Leandro played a free kick to Kikín at the top of the box and he chested the ball down as Jaime Lozano swept in and took aim at goal. Lozano’s shot was blocked by his marker and the ball bounced around for a second before Kikín pounced, zipping a shot past goalie Christián Martínez to give the Pumas a 3-1 aggregate lead.

Only four minutes later, UNAM goalie Sergio Bernal watched helplessly as a Sergio Pérez effort got past him, but it clanged off the base of the post to his left and bounced away. That was as close as the Rayados would get to scoring, although Bernal made a nice save in minute 87 to snuff out Monterrey’s last hope. The Pumas had back-to-back titles.

With the victory, the Pumas had claimed their fourth trophy of the season, a magical way to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In addition to the Clausura 2004 and the Apertura 2004, UNAM had won the 2004 Champions Cup (beating Pachuca 1-0 with a goal by Kikín) and had hoisted the Santiago Bernabéu Trophy after defeating Real Madrid 1-0 (goal by Israel Castro).