Playoff chances fade for stumbling Pumas, Atlas

After disappointing results on Friday night, the UNAM Pumas and the Zorros of Atlas will likely find themselves on the sidelines during the playoffs

A few days after losing to one of the worst teams in the world, Puebla might have ruined UNAM’s playoff chances by battling the Pumas to a 1-1 tie in a Matchday 17 contest Friday night.

Later in Guadalajara, 10-man Atlético de San Luis pulled the rug out from under host Atlas, defeating the Zorros 2-1 with a goal in added time. The loss basically ends the Zorros postseason prospects.

Camoteros 1, Pumas 1

Puebla was coming of an embarrassing 1-0 loss at Veracruz (ending the Tiburones’ 41-game winless streak that dated back to August 2018), but they gave UNAM fits most of the game.

Pumas, Atlas take hits

The Pumas are down, but are they out? Friday night’s tie at Puebla could be the result that costs the Pumas a playoff spot. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images)

The two teams failed to generate any dangerous scoring chances in the first half, but left back Jorge Zárate got the host Camoteros on the board at the hour mark. Zárate collected a deflected pass just outside the box and fired home a left-footer that Alfredo Saldivar had no chance to stop.

Puebla soon thereafter fell back into a prevent defense – way too early in my opinion – and did not play it very well, retreating too quickly and allowing the Pumas to control midfield unchallenged. With only 5 minutes remaining, the Puebla defense bunched together deep in their own box. A Pumas centering pass was blocked and trickled out toward the top of the box, but there were no defenders nearby and Juan Iturbe had an unimpeded run at the ball. He had time to pick out his spot and blasted it past Puebla keeper Nicolás Vikonis to knot the score at 1-1.

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The Pumas could not find the net again, settling for a single point when they needed all 3. UNAM scored 5 goals on Wednesday night but managed only one against the league’s second-worst defense. With two games remaining, UNAM has 22 points and remains in 9th place and several other playoff contenders (Monterrey and Pachuca, for instance) can move past them with wins.

Zorros 1, Tuneros 2

The host Zorros dominated the first half but went into the locker room at the break with only a 1-0 lead. Maurcio Cuero punched home the goal off a pass from Ulises Cardona in minute 16.

The Tuneros regained their footing in the second half, benefiting from a deflected shot that bounced right into the path of Juan Castro who raced inside the box and slipped the ball under goalie Camilo Vargas to tie the score.

Eight minutes later, San Luis went down to 10 men when captain Mario Alvarez was shown a second yellow card. Atlas moved their lines forward with determination, but goalie Carlos Fernández was up to the task, making several sparkling saves. San Luis also created several dangerous counterattacks, forcing Vargas to come up big too.

With time winding down and Atlas in desperate need of a win, Vargas moved upfield to participate in a corner kick but Fernández got his hands on the ball. Quickly, the Tuneros goalie punted the ball downfield as Vargas tried to race back into position. The ball bounced down the field with San Luis striker Nicolás Ibáñez and Atlas midfielder Lorenzo Reyes in hot pursuit, Vargas trailing behind. As Reyes lunged for a tackle, Ibáñez got his toe on the ball and it trickled into the net in minute 90+3.

The loss leaves Atlas in 10th place with 21 points, 2 points out of a playoff spot. However, the Zorros are idle next week so they could be eliminated before they take the field again in three weeks’ time, after the November FIFA break.

Coaches corner

Pumas, Atlas take hits

Necaxa head coach Guillermo Vazquez could be the next Chivas manager. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

Necaxa fans are likely alarmed at the latest rumor involving coach Guillermo Vázquez. “Memo” will be out of contract at the end of this season and “Cancha” reported Friday that he is not inclined to sign a new contract. Instead, he could be a target for Ricardo Peláez as he searches for the next Chivas coach.

Staying in Guadalajara, Atlas coach Leandro Cufre received the dreaded “vote of confidence.” After Atlas was routed by the Pumas 5-1 on Wednesday, there were whispers that Cufre’s job was in danger. After Friday night’s loss, the Zorros can probably kiss their playoff hopes good-bye because they must serve their bye on Matchday 18. On Thursday, Atlas team president Pedro Portilla said the Argentine’s job is safe and the front office is focused on supplying Cufre with reinforcements for the Clausura 2020 season. Will that change after Friday’s poor showing?

Interim Atlético San Luis coach Luis Francisco García will be on the sidelines in Estadio Jalisco trying to defeat Atlas, the team with which he debuted as a player in 1983. García, who played six years with the Zorros, will manage the Tuneros only until the end of the season. San Luis ownership has been mum about who they might hire to take over the full-time job after sacking Gustavo Matosas last month over corruption allegations.