All eyes are on next week’s looming trip to North Jersey, where the Union will clash with the rival Red Bulls for the ninth time in franchise history.
But first, a bye week exhibition match with Mexican side UNAM, better known as “Pumas”.
The Mexico City-based club currently sits in sixth place in the Liga MX Clausura table, with a 4-2-5 record and 17 points.
In the 2012 Apertura, Pumas placed 10th, with 23 points and a 7-8-2 record.
If you’re unfamiliar with how Liga MX (Mexican first division) works, there are actually two different seasons in the year.
The “Apertura” takes place from August to December, and the “Clausura”, takes place from January to May. Each season is comprised of 17 games, for a total of 34 over the course of the year. The split season format allows Liga MX to be in sync with the FIFA calendar, and you’ll see the same format in Argentina and other South American countries.
The club represents the “National Autonomous University of Mexico”, hence the Spanish-language acronym “UNAM”. The “Pumas” nickname was picked up in the 40’s and 50’s, derived from the inspirational speeches of former coach Roberto Mendez.
A number of Mexican stars got their start with Pumas, such as Hugo Sanchez, Claudio Suarez, and more recent players like Pablo Barrera and Israel Castro.
The club’s best season was probably in 2004, when they won both the Apertura and Clausura. Pumas is the only team to win both titles back-to-back since Liga MX adopted the new format in 1996.
Pumas’ beat the Carolina Railhawks 2-1 on Wednesday night in front of a record crowd at the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. Carolina gave up a first half own goal, then went down 2-0 on a goal from Juan Pablo Rodriguez. Former New England forward Zack Schilawski found the net for the Railhawks before halftime, but the NASL side couldn't grab a second half equalizer.
It's a strong travel roster for Pumas, who bring along star players like Javier Cortes and Martin Bravo.
Cortes, a midfielder, leads the team with 4 goals and 2 assists in this Clausura campaign. Bravo is an Argentine forward and he's bagged 3 goals this season, plus 5 in the Apertura.
Luis Fuentes and Marco Palacios are regular defensive starters, with Fernando Espinoza patrolling the midfield.
There's good young talent, with the likes of Alfonso Nieto, Luis Julio de Regules, and Carlos Emilio Orrantia.
And keep an eye on veteran Spaniard Luis Garcia, and Argentine Martin Romagnoli. Garcia has an enjoyed an extensive career that includes stints with Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, and Barcelona. The 35 year old Romagnoli brings a wealth of experience to the defensive midfield.
Goalkeeper: Alejandro Palacios, Alfredo Saldivar
Defenders: Dario Veron, Luis Fuentes, Luis Julio de Regules, Marco Palacios, Efrain Velarde, Luis Quintana, Alan Mendoza
Midfielders: Martin Romagnoli, David Cabrera, Emilio Orrantia, Kevin Quinones, Jaime Lozano, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Fernando Espinoza, Javier Cortes
Forwards: Luis Garcia, Eduardo Herrera, Martin Bravo, Alfonso Nieto,
UNAM Fast Facts
Location: Mexico City
Stadium: Estadio Olímpico Universitario (Capacity 63,000)
Nicknames: Pumas, Universidad, Felinos
Manager: Juan Antonio Torres Servin
Rivals: Club America, Cruz Azul
League titles: 7*
Other titles: Copa Mexico (1), CONCACAF Champion’s Cup (3) Campeon de Campeones (2)
2012 Apertura: 7 wins, 8 losses, 2 draws (tenth place, 23 points)
*(Pumas won three league titles before the split season was created. The club won the Clausura in 2001, 2004, and 2009 and the Apertura in 2004)
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com