UNAM Pumas announced that they had parted ways with Coach Andres Lillini in a move that wasn’t surprising. Lillini had given Pumas some of the best moments in recent times, getting the team to a Liga MX and a CONCACAF Champions League Final, but the 2022 Apertura was a disastrous affair. Pumas ended the season in 16th place despite making some big signings in players like Dani Alves and Eduardo Salvio, thus having high expectations of competing for the title. No new coach has been named, and right now there are no clear candidates for the job either.
Andres Lillini came to Pumas in a surprising way. A week before the 2020 Apertura started, Coach Michel Gonzalez quit the team saying that he had to return to Spain since the COVID-19 emergency forced him to take care of his mother. Lillini had been in charge of the youth teams, and would thus take his first job as a head coach. Under Lillini, Pumas shocked Mexico by having a great season and finishing in second place. In the Liguilla, Pumas got by Pachuca in the quarterfinals, and got to the semifinals before facing Cruz Azul. There they were crushed in the first leg by a score of 4-0 looked to be out. But then in the second leg, Pumas came back to get a 4-0 win in an historic comeback against a rival, qualifying to the final. Unfortunately for Lillini and Pumas, they got a tie 1-1 in the first leg against León and lost the return match by a 2-0 score, thus losing the title. In the Clausura 2021, Lillini and Pumas would fail by not making the repechaje after losing their final match of the season at home against America by a 1-0 score. To make matters worse, Cruz Azul became champions that season, which was a severe hit to the significance of their win in the previous season’s semifinals, as Cruz Azul had bounced back to win a title and Pumas weren’t able to. Still, Lillini had done enough to continue at the helm of Pumas.
The Apertura 2021 seemed to be another tournament heading toward failure. Pumas though came to the final match with chances to get to the repechaje, but at home they were trailing rivals Cruz Azul by a 3-1 score at halftime. Pumas though came back to get a 4-3 win and qualified to the post season. There they defeated Toluca away to get to the quarterfinal, where they faced their biggest rival America, who finished in first place. There after a scoreless first leg, Pumas got a 3-1 away win and eliminated America in another huge win under Lillini. Pumas then got to the semifinals and went out in huge controversy against eventual champions Atlas after a non-call on a possible red card. The next season, Pumas played in the CONCACAF Champions League and with a great tournament, Pumas got through Saprissa, New England Revolution, and their rivals Cruz Azul to get to the final. In Liga MX they also made it to the repechaje. Without a great team all in his tenure, Lillini had done great things, but that would be the beginning of the end.
With Pumas, Lillini got a 2-0 lead at home in the first leg against Seattle Sounders before giving up two late goals to get a 2-2 tie. Pumas tried to bounce back away, but they ended up losing another final by a 3-0 score. The loss turned out to be devastating. Pumas ended a 16 year winning streak of the CONCACAF club titles, giving MLS their first victory. To make matters worse, Pumas was the last Mexican team to lose a CONCACAF Final against a non-Mexican team when they lost the 2005 tournament (back when it was named Champions Cup) against Saprissa. Pumas didn’t bounce back from it, and they returned to Mexico where they were crushed by Chivas in the repechaje and eliminated from the tournament. After that Pumas came into the season with some big signings, including promising star Gustavo Del Prete and more importantly ex-Benfica and Argentinean international Eduardo Salvio. Still the biggest signing from Pumas came in Brazilian star Dani Alves. Pumas also was set to play in the Joan Gamper Cup against Barcelona. Things looked promising for Pumas, and although they hadn’t had a great start before Alves joined the team, everybody was sold on the team. Pumas went to the Joan Gamper Cup and got embarrassed with a 6-0 drubbing that could have (and perhaps should have) had a bigger goal differential. Pumas returned home and just had a nightmare season, with only two wins and ending in 16th place. In the tournament with the most expectations under Lillini, he had failed badly.
The firing of Lillini is not surprising, although it is bittersweet. Lillini gave Pumas some great moments, but in the end he gave no silverware to Pumas. While it’s true that Pumas had their constant money problems and a relatively weak squad, they are also had done better in past seasons. People forget that when the Clausura 2020 season ended because of the COVID-19 emergency, Pumas was in sixth place and the team was already showing some good things. It’s true that Lillini shined, but he also struggled at times and the disappointment of this season was largely on him. He failed to get his most talented squad to the postseason, and with Pumas finally spending money, they really couldn’t waste another season for him to get it going. Still, Lillini should get a job in Mexico and there is supposedly a lot of interest in his services while Pumas also tries to find a head coach to finally get back and get their first trophy since 2011.