Bedraggled Pumas pounce when it counts, claim wildcard

Pumas striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno rises unchallenged to head home UNAM's first goal in the club's 2-0 win over Pachuca. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Pumas striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno rises unchallenged to head home UNAM's first goal in the club's 2-0 win over Pachuca. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images) /
Pumas beat Pachuca
Pumas players salute their supporters after defeating first-place Pachuca at Estadio CU on Sunday. The win earned the Pumas a playoff berth. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Pumas simply refuse to lose

The short-handed and bone-weary Pumas claimed a Liga MX wildcard spot with a gritty 2-0 win over first-place Pachuca in the season finale for both teams.

The victory came in UNAM’s fifth game in 15 days as Andrés Lillini’s men have done double duty, reaching the Concacaf Champions League final and now extending their Liga MX season another week.

After an emotionally draining 2-2 tie in Wednesday’s first leg of the CCL finals against visiting Seattle of MLS, the Pumas were given little chance of qualifying for the Liga MX postseason against the top-ranked Tuzos.

Coach Lillini indicated he was prioritizing the Champions League by opting to sprinkle Sunday’s starting line-up with academy players. In addition to three members of the club’s Under-23 team, the Pumas also started three back-ups to allow their overworked regulars some much-needed rest ahead of the return match in Seattle on Wednesday.

However, Pachuca coach Guillermo Almada also rested some starters since the Tuzos had nothing to play for, having already clinched the No. 1 seed throughout the Liga MX playoffs. As a result, UNAM was able to stay in the game, threatening Oscar Ustari’s goal on more than one occasion through the first hour.

In minute 61, Lillini inserted star striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno and less than 10 minutes later the Argentine poacher had a brace. His first came off a header from a corner kick in minute 64. Six minutes later, Dinenno latched onto a deflected shot behind the defense and fired past Ustari into the netting inside the far post.

UNAM’s one cause for concern came in minute 74 when defender Arturo Ortiz limped off the field favoring his right groin. “Palermo” missed the first leg match against Seattle after picking up a red card in the semifinals and his presence in the middle of the back line is required for Wednesday’s CCL final. This is especially true since right back Alan Mozo is unlikely to be fit after suffering a sprained left knee in the first leg against the Sounders on Wednesday. Mozo watched Sunday’s game from a box seat.

Sunday’s 2-0 triumph lifted the Pumas to 22 points and 11th place in the Liga MX standings, pending the outcome of tonight’s León-Toluca match. A León victory will reduce UNAM to the No. 12 seed (and a game against Puebla), otherwise the Pumas will hold on as the No. 11 seed (and face the Chivas on Wildcard Weekend) with Mazatlán FC claiming the No. 12 seed.

Next. America rises from cellar to No. 4 seed. dark

Liga MX Notes

André-Pierre Gignac has claimed his third Liga MX Golden Boot award (he previously led Liga MX in scoring in the Apertura 2018 and Clausura 2016 seasons. The Flying Frenchman registered 11 goals in 16 games for the Tigres this season. Pachuca’s Nicolás Ibáñez (16 games played) and Necaxa’s Rodrigo Aguirre (14 games) were next with 9 goals.