Pumas will face the biggest game in their regular season, as they look for revenge against an America team that isn’t just their biggest rival but come into this match after giving the Universitarios a beatdown in the Semifinals of of the 2018 Liga MX Apertura. While the rematch should’ve been the biggest story in terms of this match, now all eyes are set on the return of former Pumas star Nicolas Castillo, who just signed with Club America, incurring the wrath of Pumas fans. With the news that Castillo will be in the starting lineup for America for the first time, things will be tense in what is already considered by many as the most dangerous game in Liga MX because of the hostility between fans.
For Pumas, 2018 was a nightmare year in their rivalry with America. After drawing in the 2018 Clausura regular season match, they met again in the Liguilla. Pumas could have avoided a meeting with Las Águilas but a draw against Queretaro in the last game of the season set up the match, to the delight of many fans who wanted a meeting with America. It would be a case of “Be careful what you wish for” because America crushed Pumas 4-1 in the First Leg at Ciudad Universitaria (Pumas home stadium). In the return match, it didn’t take long for America to open the scoring en route to a 2-1 victory and a 6-2 score overall to eliminate Pumas. And yet things were only going to get worse.
The Apertura 2018 can be considered the worst tournament for Pumas in their rivalry with America. First, in the regular season match, Pumas had a two-man advantage and a 2-1 lead, but, in the final minutes, Henry Martin scored an equalizer in a terrible managed game from coach David Patiño. For the rest of the Apertura, though, despite a weak squad, Pumas surprised most fans by finishing third. The great season continued on to the Liguilla, where they would eliminate Tigres in the Quarterfinals to set up a match against América. Following a 1-1 draw in the first leg, América would crush Pumas by a score of 1-. The was loss was devastating to most fans and coach Patiño. Losing by that score against your biggest rival meant that all the good feeling from the season went out the window. Thus after a bad start in the Clausura 2019, Patiño got fired after four games. To most people, Patiño wouldn’t have been fired had that loss against America not soured them to a point of no return.
America not only had crushed Pumas in the Liguilla but they went on to win the title against their other Mexico City rival, Cruz Azul. Being the defending champions, they still got some criticism from not getting good reinforcements but they would changes things just before the signing deadline with a pair of Nicolases. Colombian Nicolas Benedetti of Deportivo Cali was a interesting but it was the other Nico, Nicolas Castillo, who made the bigger splash. The Chilean had previously been a star with Pumas before leaving for Benfica, where he was a bust after 6 months.
The Castillo signing was another hit for Pumas fans, as the guy who had been a star with the team as recently as Clausura 2018, would now be part of their biggest rival. Thus all the news suddenly turned into the welcoming he will receive from the fans. While not the biggest game in Mexico because of the strong rivalry between the two animation groups (America’s La Monumental and Pumas’ La Rebel), the America-Pumas clash is considered to be the most dangerous game in Liga MX. And yet the addition of the Castillo controversy means that the tension of this game is at one of the highest points in years.
The clash on Sunday will be a tough game to predict. Bruno Marioni has had a good start as Pumas coach since replacing Patiño, getting a draw against leader Monterrey (being a man down) and a win in Queretaro. To make things interesting, America will go after their worst performance since winning the title after losing at home against Leon by a score of 3-0. That said, the circumstances coming into this match points to an eventful match regardless of how either team has played before. Hopefully the news of the match stay in the pitch and not in the stands.
Date: Sunday, February 16
Time: 10:00am Pacific, 12:00pm Central, 01:00pm Eastern
Venue: Estadio Olimpico Universitario, Mexico City, Mexico
TV: Univision Deportes Network (US-Spanish), Univision (US-Spanish), Canal de las Estrellas (Mexico), UnivisionTDN (Mexico)