Juan Francisco Palencia: A Legend Retires

This week in Mexico another legend hung up his cleats and said goodbye to the fields. Juan Francisco Palencia, known as "El Gatillero," announced his retirement from professional football on Monday after a seventeen year career. "I leave my career happy. I did everything that a football player can do. I was champion with Pumas, it’s the most important thing that can happen," expressed the veteran player, who has finally decided to step away from the beautiful game.

Juan Francisco Palencia has achieved many things, and can be viewed as one of the greats in Mexican soccer history. Palencia was a player who always gave his all on the field, and while never considered the best technically, he made up for it with his heart and passion for the game.

Palencia began his career with Cruz Azul, where he debuted in 1994. He quickly became a prominent figure for the team, achieving Cruz Azul icon status during his nine years with the club. While at Cruz Azul, Palencia won the Primera Division championship in 1997, as well as the CONCACAF Champions Cup the same year. In 2001, Cruz Azul made their epic Copa Libertadores run, becoming the first Mexican team to reach the final of the prestigious international tournament. Facing the always tough Boca Juniors in the final, Palencia scored the only goal of the game at "La Bombonera," giving Los Cementeros the tie in aggregate score. Ultimately, Cruz Azul fell short to Boca Juniors in a penalty shoot out, but the match went down in the books as one of the best finals in Copa Libertadores history.

After a great nine year stay with Cruz Azul, Palencia made his move to Europe, playing one season in Spain’s La Liga with Espanyol of Barcelona. Though his stay was shorter than expected, Palencia played 30 games with Espanyol, scoring six goals for the team.

His return to Mexico in 2003 landed him on another of the Primera's "big" teams, this time joining the popular Chivas in Guadalajara. His stay in Guadalajara lasted two years, where he helped Chivas reach the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores in 2005, registering five goals in the tournament. After his two year stay, Palencia tried his luck in the United States with a struggling Chivas USA team. Though not the best team performance in MLS that year, Palencia nonetheless became a symbol and leader of the team.

After his one year stay in MLS, Palencia returned again to Mexico and joined Pumas UNAM in 2007. For the next four years Palencia served as a crucial figure for the UNAM team. The veteran's experience, combined with a solid collection of young talent, led Pumas to league championships in 2009 and 2011.

Palencia's success is not only limited to the club level, as for many years he served an important role with the Mexican National Team. Palencia debuted with "El Tri" in 1996, and was part of the Summer Olympic team where Mexico reached the quarterfinals. That same year, Palencia was part of the Mexico Gold Cup squad that won the tournament by beating Brazil 2-0 in the final. Palencia continued to be part of the national team during the 1998 and 2003 Gold Cups, where Mexico also earned trophies. In 1999, Palencia was a member of the FIFA Confederation Cup championship team, who beat Brazil 4-3 in a memorable final at Estadio Azteca. In other international competitions, Palencia was part of the 1997, 1999, and 2004 Copa America squads, as well as the 1997 Confederations Cup. One of his biggest career accomplishments was being a member of the 1998 and 2002 World Cup teams, both times reaching the "Round of 16" with El Tri.

During his participation with the national team, Palencia played 80 games, scoring 12 goals. In Mexico’s Primera division he played 477 games with Cruz Azul, Chivas, and Pumas UNAM, registering 123 goals. Throughout his career Palencia has become a symbol to each and every team he has played for. One of the all-time greats leaves the game this week, but Palencia is one who will forever be an important part of Mexican football history.

At minute 2:20 of the video below, you can see Francisco Palencia's first official international goal -- with Mexico’s Olympic team in the 1996 Atlanta games against Italy. This goal showcased Palencia’s skill at a young age, and helped him become a household name among many Mexicans.

The following video shows Palencia’s last goal with the Mexican National Team in 2009, thirteen years following his first goal with the Olympic squad. This game was a Qualifier for the 2010 World Cup against El Salvador.

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