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¿Que Pasa? Pumas UNAM

Alright then, aside from the magnificent logo and jersey, what do you know about Pumas UNAM?  Not much?  Me neither.  So, ahead of tonight's crucial group D encounter, I got in touch with Eben Lehman of SB Nation's excellent Mexcian Futbol blog FMF State Of Mind, which is well worth checking out by the way, to answer some questions and give us an idea of what Toronto FC will be up against.  So, Pumas UNAM, ¿que pasa?

Duncan Fletcher:  How is Pumas season coming along so far?  A quick look at the stats shows they're struggling right now.  Temporary blip, or a more serious problem?

Eben Lehman:  This has been an incredibly disappointing season for Pumas. After winning their first three games of the Apertura, Pumas proceeded to go winless over their next five. Things have only continued to spiral downward as they've now lost three league games in a row, capped off by a 0-4 embarrassment against Queretaro this past Saturday. To be fair though, Pumas have been dealing with some serious injury issues this season. Key players like Juan Carlos Cacho, Paco Palencia, and Marco Palacios have all missed multiple games. To top it off, referee decisions haven't exactly helped things - Pumas have now had a player sent off with a red card in four straight league matches.

DF:  So far, Pumas seem to be using the CCL as a chance to give the kids some experience.  Is this simply due to prioritizing the league, or was it a calculated gamble that they'd be good enough to get results?  After just one point from the first two games, is that policy likely to change?  Do Pumas see this game as a must win, or will they continue playing the kids?

EL:  Pumas have always prided themselves on having one of the best youth systems in Mexico. And they do, so it's no real surprise that they use CCL matches more than any other team to give their young players experience. This is a club that always looks to promote from within rather than sign outside talent, so it's important to management that they give lots of their young players this experience. That said, I believe that Pumas coaches thought they would achieve significantly better results with the young squad. With only one point in two matches it isn't necessarily time to panic, but the team probably does need to manage a win at home on Wednesday night. Does that mean we'll see more of the Pumas regulars against Toronto? Not likely. Manager Guillermo Vazquez seems to be 100% committed to his current youth strategy.

DF:  What formation and style do Pumas play?  Who are the players TFC should be looking out for?

EL:  Vazquez loves to use a 3-4-3 formation, which was incredibly successful for Pumas in last year's championship season. Martin Bravo, Dante Lopez, and Juan Carlos Cacho were almost unstoppable at times during the 2011 Clausura. The problem this season is that Lopez is gone and Cacho has played in just one match due to injury. Younger strikers like Eduardo Herrera (23 years old), Raul Molina (20), David Izazola (19), and Alfonso Nieto (19) have all gotten time up front for Pumas. Vazquez has also sometimes been forced to use more of a 3-5-2 formation. 

I would expect Hererra to get the start on Wednesday. He's become somewhat of a regular for Pumas this season, appearing in all seven matches and scoring two goals (tying him with Bravo for the team lead). Another player for Toronto to watch out for who should get a start on Wednesday is young midfielder David Cabrera. He's only 21 years old, but Cabrera has quickly grown into one of the best central midfielders in Mexico. On the backline, don't expect to see the top defenders Pumas has to offer (ie Dario Veron or Marco Palacios). Instead the defense will likely feature youngsters like Jose Garcia, Aaron Sandoval, and Neftali Teja. This is where Toronto could possible take advantage, especially on the counter attack. All three of these players have seen only limited time with the senior team, and Garcia looked especially poor in this weekend's loss to Queretaro.

DF:  Do Mexican fans care that much about the CCL?  Is there likely to be a big intimidating crowd?  What other homefield advantages will Pumas have?

EL:  The crowd won't be anywhere near the size it is for Pumas home games on Sunday afternoons. Estadio Olimpico Universitario (which served as the main stadium for the 1968 Olympics) is a large structure, but loses much of its intimidating factor when only partially full. There is also a track around the field which separates the fans a good distance from the field of play. I know Pumas have run some 2 for 1 ticket deals in the past for CCL matches, but even still there probably won't be a large number of home fans for a midweek match.

Possible Pumas starters: Odin Patino; Jose Garcia, Aaron Sandoval, Neftali Teja; Carlos Alberto Campos, David Cabrera, Michelle Arturo Castro, Carlos Orrantina; Alfonso Nieto, Raul Molina, Eduardo Herrera.