Pumas must pick up the pace after FIFA break

Captain Pablo Barrera laments a missed opportunity against Toluca. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Captain Pablo Barrera laments a missed opportunity against Toluca. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

First-year coach Miguel González “Michel” is still tinkering with the Pumas line-up, in search of better offensive production.

The Apertura 2019 has been a roller coaster for the Pumas so far. It’s either win or lose, up or down; there has been no in between. Also, each of their first seven games featured a zero on the scoreboard. UNAM won three games with a clean slate and lost the other four while failing to score.

Then, in their Matchday 8 tilt against Toluca, both teams scored … but it was anything but normal. Sub Carlos González put the Pumas ahead in minute 56 and it appeared as though coach Miguel Gonzalez’s side would hold on for its fourth shut-out of the season.

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Then Diablos striker Emmanuel Gigliotti hit the equalizer in minute 90+2, deflating the crowd at Estadio CU. Before depression could set in, however, Pumas youngster Bryan Mendoza nodded home from the doorstep to give UNAM a 2-1 victory.

Unimpressive performances

So, first-year coach “Michel” has not fully won over the Pumas faithful just yet. The “Blue-and-Gold” have 12 points from a palindromic 4-0-4 record, with 8 goals scored and 7 allowed. UNAM is 9th in the league table and 9th in our Power Rankings.

The wins have not been too convincing. The Pumas’ victims have been Atlético San Luis on the road (2-0), Necaxa (2-0), sad-sack Veracruz (2-0) and the aforementioned Toluca.

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Jeison Angulo reacts after being red-carded vs the Tigres in minute 71. The Pumas lost 1-0 when the visitors scored in minute 89. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

Perhaps the most impressive game the felinos have played was their Matchday 3 home loss to the Tigres when a late André-Pierre Gignac handed the Pumas a bitter 1-0 loss. This after the universitarios were harshly reduced to 10 men nearly 20 minutes earlier.

That being said, “Michel” must figure out how to instill greater discipline in his players. Only four teams have more yellow cards than the Pumas through Matchday 8, though the club has seen only one other red card.

Punchless Pumas

Another issue the former Real Madrid star must deal with is his team’s toothless attack. Since finishing the Apertura 2018 as the third-highest scoring team, UNAM’s offense has been feeble. Last season, los auriazules found the net only 19 times in 17 games and their top scorer was Felipe Mora with only 5 goals.

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Miguel González “Michel” took over as coach of the Pumas on May 21. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

“Michel” has juggled his line-up in his search to find an offensive spark. He opened the season with a five-man midfield and Carlos González as the lone striker. Mora was left to come off the bench and regular winger Martín Rodríguez fell down the depth chart.

Since then, he has moved midfielder Víctor Malcorra to left wing in a three-man front line, and even sat striker Carlos González in favor of super-sub Juan Iturbe (Matchday 7 vs Monterrey). González returned to the starting line-up against Toluca and scored the first goal, his second of the season which currently leads the club.

Demanding schedule on horizon

Going forward, the Pumas must play with restraint and avoid unnecessary fouls. Until their offense starts clicking, they can’t afford to hand opportunities to opponents. This is especially true right after the break because the season picks back up with a gauntlet of challenges for the Pumas.

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The Pumas visit Estadio Azteca on Sept. 14 for the 94th regular season Clásico Capitalino. América has won 34 times, the Pumas 24, with 37 draws. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

“Michel” will get his first taste of the Clásico Capitalino when league play resumes as UNAM visits América on Matchday 9. The outcome of this game could very well set the stage for the rest of the Apertura.

Following the always-intense match against the Aguilas is a home game against another Mexico City rival, Cruz Azul, who will certainly have a new coach by then. A bye follows on Matchday 11.

On Sept. 29, the Blue-and Gold have a home date against Santos, one of the best teams in the league, then travel to Guadalajara to face the Chivas on Matchday 13 right before the October FIFA break. This brutal stretch concludes with a home game vs. León, a title contender again this season.

The Pumas’s mettle will be tested and their playoff fate will be determined by how they perform during this five-game stretch.