Away End

The Away End | Pumas UNAM with Cesar Hernandez 


New York City FC are back home in the Bronx for a Leagues Cup tie against Pumas UNAM.

For this edition of 'The Away End' presented by Berkeley College & Rennert International, we spoke to Cesar Hernandez, a freelance soccer writer covering the game in the U.S. and Mexico, and a member of the Mexican Soccer Show podcast.

Hi Cesar, thanks so much for speaking with us. How long have you been covering Mexican soccer?

I've been covering Mexican soccer for around seven years now. It started off as a fun hobby on the side while I worked as a counselor for at-risk youth during the day, but since 2016, I've been doing soccer coverage full-time and haven't looked back!

What’s been your favorite moment covering Pumas/Liga MX?

Although Pumas failed to win the 2015 Apertura season, that tournament immediately comes to mind. Led by game-changing players like Fidel Martinez and Ismael Sosa in the attack, Pumas finished 1st in the regular season standings before ultimately making it to the final round of the playoffs. In a two-game championship series against Tigres, Pumas lost the 1st leg 3-0 before ultimately fighting back to get a 3-0 win in the 2nd leg that eventually went to extra time and penalties!

Unfortunately, Tigres were the ones who lifted the trophy after winning 4-2 in penalties, but the season overall and fight in the championship was a perfect highlight of the hard-working and dogged nature that Pumas regularly showcase.

Pumas have only played twice in the Apertura, drawing once and losing once. How would you evaluate their 2021 under Andrés Lillini?

It has been a rough start to the season for them, and on Sunday, they suffered a 3-1 loss at home to Atletico San Luis. So that's one draw and two losses in Liga MX, and if we're including their short trip north for the Florida Cup last month, that's one draw and three losses in all competitions since July.

To say that it has been underwhelming might be an understatement. Lillini is still trying to figure out what works best for him, and in a league like Liga MX that tends to be quite fickle with managers, he might not have much more time with Pumas if nothing changes in the near future.

From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?

Pumas do have some difference-makers that could do some damage in the attack. Although he isn't at his best at the moment, Argentine striker Juan Dinenno continues to be an aggressive No.9 that will at least have a couple of powerful headers on target. I'm a big fan of 21-year-old Mexican midfielder Erik Lira, who is very well-rounded and a vital presence near the heart of the XI. American Sebastian Saucedo can be hit and miss at times, but he's had a promising start to the season as a LM/LW.

All that said, we'll see who is available this week. At time of writing, I haven't seen an official release on which players will be available and some reports from media have indicated that Lillini might add in a number of young players into the call-up.

Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?

As seen last season, there are some serious worries regarding Pumas' finishing and goal-scoring. This may not be a weakness that NYCFC can technically exploit, but at the very least, they'll be sure to see plenty of missed chances and a general lack of high quality chances being created when watching some film from Pumas.

Also, I'm not entirely sure if Lillini knows what his ideal defensive setup is just yet, which has led to some slight tactical alterations and changes in the XI. While he's working on finding some answers, NYCFC could capitalize on a defense that hasn't been solidified.

If you were to identify Pumas' danger-man, who would that be?

It's easily Dinenno. He is excellent in the air, tricky to mark and has plenty of power behind his headers and shots. As mentioned earlier, he hasn't been hitting his expectations recently, but a game against NYCFC could be exactly what he needs to kick-start his run of form.

And finally, for any fans thinking of making the trip to Mexico City/Coyoacán in the future, are there any particular attractions you’d suggest checking out?

You obviously gotta visit the historic Estadio Azteca and also Pumas' Estadio Olimpico Universitario! The Frida Kahlo museum isn't too far away from that part of town either.

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