Pumas, butting heads with Chivas, must generate offense to reach semis

Guadalajara travels to UNAM with 1-0 advantage from first leg at home
UNAM's César Huerta (right) found little space against his former teammates in Thursday's first-leg, quarterfinal match.
UNAM's César Huerta (right) found little space against his former teammates in Thursday's first-leg, quarterfinal match. / Simon Barber/GettyImages

The UNAM campus will be abuzz when the Pumas host Guadalajara in a Liga MX quarterfinal as both teams boast passionate fan bases.

Kick-off is 6 pm and veteran official César Ramos has been tasked with keeping the game honest. That’s more of a wish than an expectation, however, as refs have been on the wrong end of controversy thus far in the Liga MX playoffs. Just ask Pumas fans.

The fifth-seeded Chivas arrive with a 1-0 advantage from Thursday night’s first-leg match in Guadalajara. “El Rebaño Sagrado” will advance to the Final Four with a win or a draw.

UNAM – the No. 4 seed – must win by at least one goal to reach the semifinals. As the higher seed, the Pumas move on in case of an aggregate draw, as per playoff rules.

UNAM will be on the prowl for goals

After a frustrating night at Estadio Akron, the Pumas know they must be more precise in possession and finish off plays. In the first leg, “los felinos” only managed two shots on goal and neither really tested “Wacho” Jiménez.

Team Mexico winger César Huerta needs to make smarter decisions at the CU for the Pumas. On Thursday, “Chino” over dribbled too often and rarely looked for combination plays with his teammates. The result was a plethora of lost balls and fruitless moves forward.

UNAM coach Antonio Mohamed is likely to take a more aggressive approach playing at home, though whether that means earlier substitutions or starting someone like Roberto Ergas in place of holding midfielder Ulises Rivas, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Pumas must also play with discipline – “los universitarios” were the most carded team in Liga MX this season – especially with ref Ramos and his quick whistle in charge.

Chivas coach Veljko Paunovic – a regular line-up tinkerer – will surely shuffle his starting crew, and one wonders whether the recalcitrant but talented Alexis Vega will begin the game on the bench again. 

A starter for Mexico at World Cup 2022, Vega had a lengthy stay in the doghouse before seeing 32 minutes of action in the season finale (also against UNAM), a trot-around that included a missed penalty kick in a 1-0 loss, then got on the pitch for 29 minutes in the first leg. 

Regardless of who gets the starting nod, Guadalajara surely laments its failures in front of goal in the first leg. Pumas goalie Julio González stood on his head – 7 saves in all, including two absolute stunners – and the Chivas sprayed a couple shots in clear scoring position.

I don’t expect the Goats to come out pressing the attack, instead absorbing pressure and springing forward on the counter. UNAM’s fullbacks will have to be alert for turnovers and quick transitions from the visitors. The Pumas can’t afford to rely on their netminder channeling Gianluigi Buffón again.

As for the Pumas, they’ll look to control possession and give Eduardo Salvio as many touches as possible. Mohamed might look to Juan Ignacio Dinenno to lead the attack, or at least pull “El Toro” Fernández earlier if he proves ineffective.

UNAM must score and if the Chivas manage to add to their total, the Pumas will be hard-pressed to break down the rugged Guadalajara back line.

The survivor of this series will face the winner of the Tigres-Puebla series, with the second leg taking place at "El Volcán" in Nuevo León immediately after the Pumas-Chivas contest.

The No. 3 Tigres and the 6th-seeded Camoteros played to a 2-2 draw at Estadio Cuauhtémoc on Thursday.