Aventuras Américas | Part 86 | Pumas #2: Sixth Decade of Football Manager

Robinho Lazaró wasted no time in wrapping up his first trophy at his 22nd club in football management. His new side Pumas won the Liga MX Apertura title inspired by their young starlets Nogueira and Lucas.

Lazaró’s sixth decade of football management saw him lead Pumas into the 17-game Liga MX Torneu Clausura, which began in January 2070. He used the brief gap between seasons to move on unneeded or older players, including Ahmed Musa, who wouldn’t renew his contract, moving to Porto for £7 million. And that meant yet again putting faith in youth, including five teenagers in his first-choice 11.

Pumas began Clausura with a solid 0-0 at second-favourites Monterrey. But from there, 19-year-old striker Lucas took over, scoring two and assisted two in a 4-2 win over Mineros de Zacatecas, scoring in wins over Toluca and Querétaro and getting both goals to defeat Pachuca 2-0.

Lazaró then faced his first reunion with former club Puebla FC, where he won two Liga MX titles, since leaving them 35 years ago in 2035. It was also his first trip to the astonishing 110,180-capacity Puebla FC Stadium, which was completed the year after he departed. His new side got a flyer as Marcos Cedillo scored a first-time 30-yard screamer on nine minutes but Pubela swiftly levelled with a penalty. The hosts had the better of it but midfielder Jesús Ramírez missed a massive late chance and they settled for a draw.

Pumas’ form was a little shaky after that, losing to leaders Cruz Azul and at Tigres and Juárez. They got back on track as striker Josué Vera scored the only goal against Santos Laguna, in which they racked up 28 shots to five. And they found themselves n the right end of an eight-goal thriller as late goals from striker Anselmo Camacho and midfielder Jesús Ramírez saw them defeat Atlas Guadalajara 5-3 away.

A less dramatic but certainly more meaningful result saw Nogueira score the only goal at home to city rivals Club América. That kept the giants bottom of Liga MX Clausura, but they survived due to a good showing in Apertura.

Pumas’ strong finish to the campaign pushed them up to third place, having been in seventh with three games remaining, eight points back from top side Monterrey. Their games weren’t exactly exciting, scoring 26 and conceding 19 in 17 games.

CONCACAF Champions League

One trophy that alluded Lazaró last time he was in the Américas was the CONCACAF Champions League. But Pumas won it three of the four years he was managing Puebla, so could that be a sign?

Pumas had already reached the second round, where they took on Chicago Fire. They took control in the home leg as a Lucas brace and a Vera goal and assist hat-trick inspired a 4-1 victory then eased through with a 2-1 away win. The quarter-finals featured eight Mexican sides and Pumas got a tough draw against Pachuca. The away leg was first up and Vera put them ahead before Pachuca equalised to get a lucky draw, considering Pumas had 17 shots to six. And they were wasteful again in the home leg but Lucas’ seventh-minute goal was enough for a 1-0 win.

That teed up a Clásico Capitaliano Derby in the semi-final with Club América, who came up with a big performance to win their home leg 3-1. And Vera’s goal to seal a 1-0 win wasn’t enough for Pumas to progress. And América went on to win the Champions League, beating Puebla 1-0 in the Final – which may explain their poor league showing. But, as some form of consolation, Pumas won the fair play award.

Clausura Playoffs

Pumas’ finishing position enabled them to bypass the playoff preliminary round, which gave Lazaró’s squad the luxury of 10 days off before their quarter-final with Xolos Tijuana. That didn’t do them much good as they fell to a 2-1 defeat in Tijuana. But Nogueira and Vera strikes either side of half-time in the home leg eased them through to the semis.

Next up was fellow Mexico City rivals Cruz Azul, who finished second in Clausura. The home leg took place on Lazaró’s 86th birthday and his two starlets gave him reason for celebration as a Noguiera brace and a goal by Lucas, a club record-breaking 28th goal of the season, earned a 3-1 win. Three days later, they made the 4.5-mile trip to the Azteca Stadium and got the perfect start as Lucas scored inside eight minutes. Cruz Azul won a penalty, Lucas missed one and the hosts moved in front on the night after 67 minutes. But striker Eduardo Manzotti made sure of it, finishing off a nice team move three minutes later.

That sent Pumas into another league playoff final, this time against Clausura winners Monterrey, who edged past Tigres as the higher seed after a 2-2 aggregate score. History wasn’t on Pumas’ side as they’d only beaten Monterrey once in their last eight meetings.

The home leg was first again, given Monterrey had the advantage of finishing higher in the league. But Monterrey were too good as, despite full-back Rafael Díaz’s first Pumas goal giving them the lead, Monterrey struck back with two second-half goals. And the favourites sealed the title with a 1-0 win in the second leg.

Lucas finished as the top scorer in Liga MX with 22 in 43, which tied the Pumas club record, and got the joint-highest average rating of 7.42. As a result, he was voted Mexican Player of the Season and Mexican Attacker of the Season. Nogueira topped the assists chart with 13, got the most player of the match awards (6) and set the third-best average rating (7.35). And he was voted Mexcian Attacking Midfielder of the Season. While his manager (who unapologetically voted for himself) was voted Mexican Manager of the Season.

Season Review

This season went much better than Lazaró had expected, lifting the Apertura title then pushing Monterrey all the way in the Clausura Final.

The key players this season were undoubtedly Lucas and Nogueira. Lucas set a new record 29 goals plus 15 assists with a 7.48 average rating in 59 appearances, winning him fans’ player and young player of the season. While Nogueira scored 20 and got 17 assists with a 7.39 average rating in 64 appearances.

Also impressive was Vera, who scored 20 and got six assists in 40 appearances. No other player scored more than four goals, but midfielder Luis Rojas got 10 assists followed by Luciano Cruzalta (9) and Cedillo (8). While special mention has to go to goalkeeper Nicolás Rengifo for his club-high 65 appearances.

The quality of Pumas’ young starlets was proven by Lucas winning NxGn 2070, which was the first time Lazaró’s players had won the award since Jan Mares at Sporting in 2055. Nogueira came third, full-back Daniel Burgueno was ninth and Cedillo was 26th.

However, they were looking increasingly unlikely to keep their two stars. Nogueira had a ridiculously low minimum fee release clause of £6.75 million and refused to sign a new contract as he believed “the squad wasn’t strong enough to play at a level matching his own ambitions.” That was a view shared by Lucas, who was wanted by Salzburg but, luckily, he had no release clause in his contract.

Lazaró believed there was still plenty to achieve at Pumas and signed a new one-year deal at the end of the season.

But how far could he take them in 2071? Join us on Monday to find out!

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