The Mexican Primera Clausura 2011 season concludes this week, with Monarcas Morelia and Pumas UNAM meeting in an enticing championship final. Thursday night the championship series kicks off in Morelia, with the return leg coming on Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. Both teams feature open, attacking styles, which should make for an exciting series. Below we take a look at both teams, and break down the Pumas vs. Morelia Gran Final by the numbers.
6 -- League titles won by Pumas in club history (their most recent championship coming in the Clausura 2009 season).
1 -- League titles won by Morelia in club history (the sole league trophy coming in the Invierno 2000 season). Of the eight teams to qualify for the Liguilla this year, Morelia were the only club without multiple championships.
0-5 -- Scoreline of Morelia's opening weekend loss to Atlas. Could the season have started any worse for Morelia? Probably not. The embarrassment in the opener to Atlas was followed by just one win for Monarcas in their first five matches. Credit the team for turning things around, though, and climbing back up the standings to finish as the #3 overall seed in the playoffs.
8 -- Total games combined suspension for Morelia manager Tomas Boy and veteran player Miguel Sabah, following the late game brawl this past weekend against Cruz Azul. Boy's five-game suspension means Morelia will play in the final without their manager on the sideline. The team will also be without the veteran leadership of Sabah, who really deserves to be on the field. It's still unclear what exactly Sabah did during the skirmish to warrant being sent off, let alone the corresponding three-game suspension. Morelia certainly will miss his presence, but it won't be as big a loss as it may have been earlier in the year. Battling injury, Sabah has not started Morelia's last four matches, and the team has certainly proved they can get the job done without him when necessary.
3 -- The number of Mexican Primera teams in Mexico City. If Morelia win the championship, they will have taken down all three teams - America, Cruz Azul, and Pumas - in succession on their way to the trophy.
39 -- The total number of goals scored by Morelia so far during the Clausura. Morelia finished the regular season with 31 goals, tying them with America as the top scoring team in the league. They have since added eight additional goals in four postseason games.
6 -- Total goals scored by Morelia in their two postseason games at home. Morelia earned a 3-2 win over America in the first round, before this weekend’s 3-0 destruction of Cruz Azul, a magnificent performance that was unfortunately overshadowed by the late-game brawl.
0 -- Goals scored by visiting opponents at Estadio Olimpico during the postseason. Pumas have looked even more unbeatable at home in the Liguilla than Morelia. The UNAM club has won both home return legs 2-0, after failing to win either of their two playoff road games. This makes it imperative that Morelia grab as big a lead as possible in the first leg at Estadio Morelos on Thursday night. Pumas have already proven capable of digging out of a first leg hole, so Morelia must carry as much of an advantage as possible into Estadio Olimpico on Sunday.
2 -- The number of "Pikolins" on the field for Pumas. Twin brothers Marco Antonio Palacios and Alejandro Palacios, better known as Pikolin and Pikolin II, are two of the main reasons why Pumas have not conceded a goal at home in the Liguilla. Marco, along with Dario Veron, has helped anchor one of the best defensive units in the league. Alejandro, in his first full season as starting goalkeeper for Pumas, has also been fantastic. His talent in goal was on full display in the semifinal round against Chivas, where he almost singlehandedly helped preserve the home shutout in the decisive return leg.
3 -- Total number of goals scored by Morelia striker Rafael Marquez Lugo in the previous two seasons combined.
13 -- Goals scored by Rafael Marquez Lugo so far this season, maybe the best of his long career. Marquez Lugo has further stepped up his play during the postseason, scoring four of his goals in the last four Liguilla games. Keeping him off the scoresheet will be the primary mission of the Pumas defense.
38 -- Age of Juan Francisco "Paco" Palencia. Don't let the years fool you, through. The Pumas veteran, who can play both as a striker or attacking midfielder, is still one of the most dangerous players on the field. Palencia routinely outworks younger players, and can be seen beating opposition half his age to balls. Also of note: he scored the winning goal for Pumas in the team's 1-0 road victory over Morelia back in March.
1 -- Career goals scored by Pumas defender Efrain Velarde from 2004 to 2011, prior to the current postseason.
2 -- Goals scored by Efrain Velarde during the current postseason, making him the leading scorer for Pumas in the Liguilla. With all the big time scorers on the Pumas roster (Juan Carlos Cacho, Martin Bravo, Dante Lopez, etc.), it’s incredible that Velarde, a player with one career goal before this month, has somehow emerged as the team’s playoff scoring leader. Credit manager Guillermo Vazquez with moving Velarde out wide on the left wing in recent weeks, a change that has allowed the defender to play a more attacking role. So far, it’s a move that has paid off in a big way.
0 -- Major offseason roster moves made by Pumas prior to the Clausura season. Credit Pumas management for sticking with their system, relying on existing players and trusting manager Vazquez - especially after a relatively disappointing Apertura 2010 season in which they barely qualified for the playoffs. The continuity on the Pumas roster has allowed this group of players to grow into a team with few, if any, obvious weaknesses. The best team through the majority of the Clausura season, Pumas are now on the cusp of lifting their second league trophy in the last five seasons.