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Pumas seek solace in Champs' Cup

their victory in the 2004 Clausura was the club's first championship since the 1990-91 season -- was doubled in December when they became the first team since the advent of the "short-season" tournaments to win back-to-back titles (and the first since Necaxa did it in 1994-95 and 1995-96).

But things haven't gone as well for Pumas this spring, with the university club in 15th place out of 18 teams in the overall table, and in last place in their six-team group, with three victories and one draw out of 10 matches. The top two teams in each group, plus the next two highest teams in the overall table, advance to the liguilla, the Primera Division playoffs.

"For us it's always important to achieve something and although we'll continue to give our best in the domestic tournament, given the difficulty in getting to the liguilla we also have to try and find a title in CONCACAF," said Gerardo Galindo.

Pumas haven't played a league match since March 20, when they suffered a 3-2 loss to Club America at the Estadio Olimpico Universitario in Mexico City, their second successive loss after a three-match unbeaten run. The Mexican league had an off week for the World Cup qualifying date, then last weekend, Pumas' match against Santos in Torreon was postponed following the death of Pope John Paul II.

"We can't leave ourselves with empty hands and we're going to try and win a title where we can and I think in this Champions' Cup we have more possibilities," said defender Jaime Lozano.

Pumas survived a very tricky quarterfinal series against CD Olimpia of Honduras to reach the semifinals. The teams drew the first leg 1-1 in Tegucigalpa, then in the return leg in Mexico, Joaquin Botero scored his first goal since the first of the year to put Pumas ahead, but Jerry Palacios leveled terms for Olimpia before halftime. But then two minutes before the match would have gone to a penalty shootout, Bruno Marioni sent Pumas into the semifinal.

Marioni has overcome an injury concern to be available for the first leg match in Washington, as has Lozano. The only regular in Hugo Sanchez's team to be out through injury on Wednesday is attacking midfielder Jose Luis Lopez.

Diego Alonso leads Pumas with five goals in the Clausura, after hitting for seven in the Apertura. Lozano has three, with Marioni has two -- the three players are the only UNAM players with more than one goal in the current tournament. Joaquin Botero scored 11 goals in the Apertura and liguilla to lead Pumas, but has yet to find the back of the net in the Clausura.

Pumas travel to the U.S. capital with confidence they can come away with a positive result in a meeting of the defending champions from the region's superpowers -- both amazingly from the capital cities of the countries.

"If we obtain a good result in Washington, we're going to be more relaxed in the return leg," said Lozano. "D.C. is an organized team, and they count on capable South American players (Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno), and that's why we'll have to be attentive when we don't have possession of the ball."

Pumas is a three-time CONCACAF Champions' Cup winner -- the third-most in competition history, with all their victories coming in the '80s. They won the three-team final tournament in 1980, defeated CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala in 1982 and Cuba's Pinar del Rio in 1989. This is the first appearance for Pumas in the Champions Cup since 1992.

"[D.C. United] is a good team. We've already seen some video and I think that although they're good in attack, their defending is lackluster," said Gonzalo Pineda.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.