On Saturday December 11, 2004, Pumas made history when they defeated Monterrey in the second leg of Apertura 2004 final. Pumas won the first leg at home 2-1 and then defeated Monterrey away by a score of 1-0. With the win Pumas made history, becoming the first team to win the Bicampeonato (back to back championships) since the short season format started way back in 1997. Under Coach Hugo Sanchez Pumas made history, and although they were the defending champions, they weren’t favored going into the Liguilla. Pumas qualified to the Liguilla as the ninth-placed team, and under the current format they would have missed out on the playoffs. In contrast Monterrey had a great season, and were coming from a semifinal crushing of Atlante. Pumas was a different animal that Liguilla, and came through after downing superlideres Veracruz and a tough Atlas side. The win however was the end of an era, and the highest point in Pumas’ recent history.
15 years later, Pumas has to cling to the memories. Monterrey meanwhile is ready to play in another Liga MX final, just as soon as they get back from the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar which they qualified for after winning the CONCACAF Champions League. While it’s true that Pumas has been a more recent Liga MX winner than Monterrey after winning the Clausura 2011 title (Monterrey’s last Liga MX title was in 2010), the fact is in recent history Monterrey is always a candidate for the title and Pumas never is. Monterrey constantly qualifies to the Liga MX finals which have allowed them numerous chances to get into the CONCACAF Champions League, where they have won four titles since 2010. Meanwhile it’s strange that the true end of Hugo Sanchez successful tenure started a season after the Bicampeonato, where a terrible season meant that Pumas played all their cards on the CONCACAF Champions Cup where they got to the final but lost to Costa Rican side, Saprissa in 2005. At the time of the writing of this article, that loss was the last time a non-Mexican team won the CONCACAF Club Championship. Things don’t look to be changing any time soon, as Monterrey consistently has one of the best squads in Mexico while Pumas keeps struggling to get any signings in the offseason.
Back in 2004, Pumas was a different team. Working well with their youth teams in years prior they had a solid squad, and key signings finally clicked in that Liguilla. Still it wasn’t smooth sailing. In the Clausura 2004, Pumas finished in second place only behind a great regular season from Jaguares de Chiapas (who only lost one game to Pumas’ two) and had a solid Liguilla. This time Pumas struggled when after a great start that had them win the equivalent of the Supercopa against Pachuca (but more importantly to make history after winning the Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid in Spain), they fell off. A good recap in video form from the season shows that besides a couple of home victories, Pumas struggled for the most part, especially because of the departure of star striker Bruno Marioni. In a weird twist, Diego Alonso tried to replace him and had some success, but not enough compared to Marioni who finished top league scorer in the Clausura 2004. Alonso was the coach of Monterrey prior to current coach Antonio Mohammed, and managed Rayados to the current CONCACAF Champions League title.
Pumas came to the Liguilla as the last placed team of all eight, but they shocked top seeded Veracruz with a 3-0 win at home. Bolivian forward Joaquin Botero had been considered one of the biggest foreign busts from Apertura 2004, when after getting bought by a considerable large fee he only scored a single goal. Yet he had improved in the Clausura, and he rose to the occasion at the most important time with two goals against Veracruz. In the second leg, Veracruz needed to win by three goals but they only scored in the 87th minute only for Pumas tie the game again and eliminate them.
In the semifinals, Pumas was going to face an Atlas team who had been the best team in the quarterfinals of the Liguilla. In a monster of a game, Pumas was able to get by Atlas by a score of 4-3. Once again Botero scored twice as had Francisco “Kikin” Fonseca, who had been a star the season prior, but failed to score at all in the regular season. Atlas however was able to come back to tie the game. Diego Alonso then came through to win the game. With a slight lead and Atlas being at home, things didn’t look good but Sanchez had coached a great game, and with goals by Fonseca and Jose Luis Lopez they won 2-0 and got to a second consecutive final. Monterrey had crushed Atlante, but after getting the lead in the first half, Pumas came back to win 2-1 with goals by Joaquin Beltran and David Toledo. Then in the second half they were able to handle Monterrey’s attack, and Fonseca scored his most important (and final) goal as a Pumas player. Monterrey grew desperate and Pumas held on for the win and the title.
Pumas Bicampeonato was an historic team. With a defense lead by Paraguayan Dario Veron and Beltran, they were able to stop the opposition. At the midfield they had the best moments from historic Jaime Lozano, and the solid play from Gonzalo Pineda and Gerardo Galindo. The offense of Fonseca, Botero and Alonso didn’t seem as strong as first but they were and while Pumas fans criticized them during the time, those fans would kill to have anything close to that in 2020. Hugo Sanchez was at the top of his game and by far had his best year coaching. Few people would expect for his career to fall off after his spell in Spain with Almeria, that finished with only half a season in Pachuca as his coaching credentials during the last decade.
Pumas was a team with young stars, who thrived under Sanchez at home during the noon Sunday games that people have criticized Pumas for. Since then, Pumas has fallen off almost every aspect of the game. Still they made something historic in 2004, something that since that time 15 years ago, only one team has done (Leon in the Apertura 2013 and Clausura 2014) in getting that Bicampeonato. Pumas fans will never forget, and are hoping for something similar to occur again.