The Liga MX leader after Jornada 2 is a surprising but familiar face. Pumas' 3-1 win over Atlas on Sunday afternoon means coach David Patino's men are one of just two teams to take all six points out of the first possible six. The other, Leon, has scored fewer goals and sits second. Far less important than being the superlider after two weeks is how Patino has Pumas fans dreaming again.
The former Pumas forward has rejuvenated the current crop of Pumas' forwards, with Nicolas Castillo already up to four goals in two games and Matias Alustiza adding one today as a reward for his strong work alongside the Chilean.
The two wins were different. Pumas needed an aggressive comeback at the Estadio Hidalgo to top Pachuca after falling behind 2-0 early last week. It was obvious Sunday that they weren't going to make the same mistake. Jesus Gallardo found Castillo in the sixth minute with a gorgeous pass from his left foot. Castillo brought down the ball and beat Cristopher Toselli to give the home side the early lead.
G⚽⚽⚽L de Nicolás Castillo@PumasMX 1-0 @atlasfc #Jornada2 #Clausura2018 #LIGABancomerMX
⚽ #SienteTuLiga ⚽ #AbrazadosPorElFutbol pic.twitter.com/4yVdEKp0r2 — LIGA Bancomer MX (@LIGABancomerMX) January 14, 2018
It again was Castillo creating issues for the opposing defense on Pumas' second goal. The 24-year-old pressured Atlas right back Juan Vigon into a poor pass for Leiton Jimenez. The Atlas center back coughed up possession and Castillo pounced, setting up Alustiza and sending Pumas into the halftime break with a two-goal lead.
Castillo confirmed the victory by winning and converting a penalty just after the hour mark as the Estadio Universitario was able to celebrate a victory for the first time since Oct. 17, 2017. Pumas didn't let go of the momentum with even Ravel Morrison's beautiful goal from a free kick failing to dampen their enthusiasm.
G⚽⚽⚽L de Ravel Morrison@PumasMX 3-1 @atlasfc #Jornada2 #Clausura2018 #LIGABancomerMX
⚽ #SienteTuLiga ⚽ #AbrazadosPorElFutbol pic.twitter.com/ld61n9ZZdn — LIGA Bancomer MX (@LIGABancomerMX) January 14, 2018
After all, this once-great team - the runner-up as recently as the 2015 Apertura - finished dead last in Liga MX in the recently concluded Apertura. Patino took over as the interim coach after Paco Palencia was fired, but sticking with the former Pumas player seemed like a move of convenience more than brilliance after Patino ran off a few draws but also struggled to get victories. The early results in this tournament say otherwise - that while Palencia wasn't a young Mexican manager who has what it takes to lead Pumas into a successful new era, the 50-year-old Patino is.
The attack is thriving with Castillo getting a boost from Alustiza playing behind him and with Marcelo Diaz and David Cabrera in the midfield looking to get the ball forward after winning it. At the back, Alejandro Arribas looks like an improvement at center back next to Luis Quintana, though the Spaniard had to leave Sunday's game with an injury.
It's the first time since the 2011 Apertura that Pumas have won their first two matches, but Patino isn't getting ahead of himself.
"I'm really happy with the two matches, but this is just getting started. We're not going to (celebrate prematurely) or change our style," Patino said after Sunday's win. "Humility above everything and work. That's it."
Staying humble is at the center of Patino's model, but Pumas' fans will have extra swagger around Mexico City and beyond this week. Their team is in first place, and they're dreaming of big things once again.