Pumas must learn how to growl again, and soon

Pumas players trudge off the field after a 2-1 home loss to León, one of only two losses at Estadio Olímpico Universitario during the Apertura 2019. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Pumas players trudge off the field after a 2-1 home loss to León, one of only two losses at Estadio Olímpico Universitario during the Apertura 2019. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

UNAM missed out on the playoffs for the second season in a row and the controversial team president resigned amidst allegations of corruption.

A year ago at this time, the third-seeded Pumas were preparing to play No. 2 seed América at Estadio Azteca after the first leg of their semifinal series had ended 1-1. UNAM was confident it could reach its first Liga MX Final since the Apertura 2015.

It was not to be. By halftime, the Aguilas were leading 4-1 on their way to a 6-1 victory that seemed to crush the life out of the Pumas. Some pundits might argue that UNAM has yet to recover from that spanking and they might not be wrong.

The Pumas finished in 15th place in the Clausura 2019 then dismissed coach Bruno Marioni who had been brought in mid-season to replace coach David Patiño. In came Real Madrid legend Miguel González “Michel” and new general manager Jesús Ramírez was allowed to spend some money on transfers to strengthen the team.

New faces included Atlas captain Juan Pablo Vigón for $1.2 million dollars who was expected to take over in midfield. Striker Martín Barragán was brought in from Necaxa for $1 million dollars and defender Nicolás Freire was acquired from Ecuador’s Liga de Quito at a cost of $800,000 dollars.

Pumas need overhaul
Juan Pablo Vigón fell short of expectations in his first season with the Pumas. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

“Michel” was asked to brighten up the offense (only four teams had scored fewer goals than the Pumas during the Clausura 2019) and get the team back into the playoffs. The Apertura 2019 started off with some promise (two consecutive 2-0 wins) but then the universitarios failed to score in four of their next five games.

UNAM struggled to find an offensive rhythm and coach “Michel” began to tinker, switching between a single striker line-up and a two-man attack. Nothing seemed to click up front, Vigón failed to assert himself in midfield and leading scorer Carlos González complained to the media that he was being misused in attack.

Critics took “Michel” to task over his game management, accusing him of playing not to lose instead of playing to win. By the end of the season, there were rumors of locker room dissension as some players evidently believed that “Michel” was playing favorites.

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Off the field, team president Rodrigo Ares de Parga suddenly announced he was stepping down and soon thereafter it was reported that he was being investigated for corruption (allegations ranged from embezzlement, to kickbacks and illegally contracting his own construction company to make improvements to team facilities).

Ares de Parga’s four-year term did not produce much to write home about. His transfer record was dismal – he missed more often than not (strikers Nico Castillo and Carlos González were winners, but their success is offset by signings such as Saúl Berjón, Joffre Guerrón and Yuber Asprilla) – and the jury is still out on “Michel.”

Despite these distractions and struggles, the Pumas found themselves with an outside chance of qualifying for the playoffs on the season’s final weekend. Before their game against Pachuca kicked off on Saturday night, however, word trickled in that Monterrey had defeated Atlas to claim the final postseason berth.

Pumas ready for makeover

UNAM ended the season in 13th place and have just over five weeks to make the necessary adjustments to chase a playoff berth in the Clausura 2020. “Michel” will be staying on as coach and he’ll be involved in personnel decisions.

New team president Leopoldo Silva and GM Ramírez insist changes will be made quickly so the new roster will be in place for the brief winter training camp later this month. The sports daily “Record” reported this week that Querétaro striker Ake Loba has been dangled in front of Ramírez but other teams have interest in the Ivory Coast youngster.

No doubt the Pumas will look to bolster the struggling offense and Ake Loba could be a perfect partner for González up front. The team also needs speed and quickness on the wings as veterans Pablo Barrera and Víctor Malcorra saw their performances dip considerably this past season.

A playmaker in midfield is also on the shopping list while “Michel” might be convinced to take a closer look at the team’s academy products. Homegrown players have always been a hallmark of the Pumas and one such youngster has already been added to the roster. Left fullback Jerónimo Rodríguez, 20, has been summoned home from Spain where he was playing in Real Oviedo’s B team.

Pumas fans are eager for a turnaround and the team’s devoted fans are never afraid to voice their support, or their dissatisfaction. “Michel” will not have much time to show he can turn around UNAM’s fortunes before fans start serenading him with a “Fuera Michel” chant. And “Chucho” Ramírez will get the same treatment if the transactions he carries out the next few weeks fail to produce positive results in January.