Internal furor at Pumas starts offseason on bad note
The Pumas had barely closed the books on the Apertura 2022 when they went and stepped in it.
UNAM’s season came to an end on Sept. 30, well out of the running for a wildcard spot only a year after an exhilarating run to the Liga MX semifinals.
With the idea of cleaning house and starting over, vice president of operations Miguel Mejía Barón told five youngsters they’d been let go. Five days later, the club was forced to reverse course when a mini-locker room mutiny threatened to roil the waters for incoming coach Rafael Puente.
The five players were all UNAM academy grads who were deemed surplus to needs, but so unceremoniously showing them the door was deemed cruel and “not the Pumas way.”
So instead of forcing them into free agency, the front office announced the contracts of the five players would be honored and they had the option of joining the team’s Liga de Expansión franchise, Pumas Tabasco, or negotiate a trade with another club.
UNAM starts its rebuild
At 43, Rafa Puente is among the youngest coaches in Liga MX though Pumas will be his fourth head-coaching gig already. As a UNAM academy graduate himself, he knows the club’s traditions and can be counted on to adhere to them … or be sent packing.
The disastrous Apertura 2022 campaign has caused the front office to return to its roots with the notion of restoring the pride and passion that is a hallmark of Pumas football.
Hiring a coach with intimate knowledge of the Pumas way was a must for Mejía Barón and the club executive will not have much patience and Puente knows it.
Fixing the team’s defense is a priority and the first step was to bring in a veteran netminder. Step up, Uruguay international Sebastián Sosa.
The 36-year-old Sosa has Liga MX experience (Pachuca, Morelia/Mazatlán) and spent the last year with Argentina’s Independiente. The Peñarol product also took part in Uruguay’s World Cup qualifying campaign while back home in South America.
Mejía Barón also inked Ulises Rivas from Santos Laguna. Rivas, a defensive midfielder, was an up-and-comer with a young Guerreros team that eventually reached the Liga MX Finals a year-and-a-half ago, but injury issues pushed him down the line-up chart.
Now declared fit, Rivas will be expected to anchor a midfield that will feature plenty of new faces after Leo López was sent to Tijuana and other in-house products (including Eric Lira) were sold off to help balance the books.
Tuneros undergoing makeover, too
Another team that missed the Liga MX playoffs last season, Atlético de San Luis, is also bringing in new blood.
The Tuneros made a big splash last month with the signing of goalie David Ochoa. The 21-year-old netminder is considered a potential No. 1 keeper for El Tri and he’ll get plenty of exposure in Liga MX after a couple seasons in MLS with Real Salt Lake.
San Luis also signed Brazilian forward Leo Bonatini to replace the departed Abel Hernández who finished third in the Liga MX scoring race last season.
Bonatini, 28, has experience in Europe, playing two seasons with Wolves in the EPL before spending the past two seasons with Grasshoppers in the Swiss Super League.
Coach André Jardine came aboard in February of 2022 and immediately led Atleti to its first-ever Liga MX playoff appearance before the team tailed off last season. He’ll be expected to turn the Tuneros back into a title contender in the upcoming Clausura 2023.
Cruz Azul shuffles deck in hopes of restoring status as Liga MX giant
After rescuing a lost season for the Cementeros and leading “La Máquina” into the Liga MX quarterfinals, Raúl Gutiérrez was given the permanent gig as head man in “La Noria.”
And “El Potro” is quickly making his mark, actively helping recruit two new attackers for the stunted Cruz Azul offense.
The Cementeros struggled to score after selling young goleador Santi Giménez to Feyenoord after Matchday 5. In fact, “El Chaquito” was top scorer (5 goals) for The Blue Machine despite not being on the roster the final 12 games of the season.
Donning the Cruz Azul kit next season will be Argentine wingers Ramiro Carrera and Augusto Lotti. Carrera, 29, is a playmaking wing (18 goals and 13 assists since debuting with Argentine club Arsenal as a teenager. Lotti, 26, had 21 goals and 10 assists with Atlético Tucumán with whom he played from 2019-2022. Carrera and Lotti were teammates the past three years.
The front office made room on the roster by ridding themselves of Angel Romero’s contract. Romero scored just 5 goals in 39 appearances for Cruz Azul across two seasons.
But coach Gutiérrez will also be turning his attention to the defensive side of the ball as the Cementeros conceded 34 goals last season, second-worst in Liga MX. Among the lowlights of the Apertura 2022 was the 7-0 shellacking América handed Cruz Azul on Matchday 10, the worst-ever loss in Cementeros history.