|[Photo: Club Universidad]|
Last season was a disaster for Pumas. The 2013 Apertura went down as the worst short tournament in the organization’s history. Naturally, results like that for one of Mexico’s “big four” had to be reversed. Drastic changes had to occur, and players that can make an immediate impact were desperately needed.
Ten weeks into the 2014 Clausura, one could easily say Argentine-Mexican midfielder Daniel Ludueña fits that mold.
El Hachita, as he is commonly known, has a resume of success in the Mexican league. The 31-year old arrived in Mexico in 2004 and has spent time with four teams, but most remember his days with Santos Laguna.
Ludueña played 12 tournaments with Santos, spanning from 2007-2013 and covering more than 200 appearances. His time with Santos is peppered with success. Hachita was crowned champion of Mexico twice with Santos, in the 2008 and 2012 Clausura. Santos was the runner up in three additional league tournaments and two CONCACAF Champions Leagues during that time.
So to say Ludueña has had success in Mexico could be considered an understatement.
After a disappointing year in Pachuca, Ludueña was informed he’d be sent to Pumas for the upcoming season. Attempting to turn around results immediately, Pumas were looking for a player of Ludueña’s stature to help ignite a stagnant offense and lead the team back to the top of Mexican soccer.
In an exclusive interview with Pumas English, Ludueña talked about his initial thoughts on his new home, his performance against Club America, and his goals for the upcoming year.
“Like every big team, sometimes you experience bad times,” he said about Pumas’ struggles in the previous season.
“I knew that it was an important challenge for me and the people [additional reinforcements] that were arriving. So I took it as a challenge, to come help so Pumas could be protagonists again.”
Pumas still have work to be done, but have already had a much improved season than last. While the club has struggled to create offense at times this season, Pumas have more wins and goals scored at the halfway point than the entire Apertura tournament.
What changed? Ludueña says it started with the players desire to improve.
“I noticed the guys since the beginning of preseason with that thirst for revenge,” he said. “They want to move forward.”
He stressed the importance of the players being unified in one goal – turning around Pumas’ fortunes.
“It’s a very united group, very proven, and I think that’s something to take advantage of.”
Two weeks ago, Hachita played in his first ever Clasico Capitalino, the derby between Pumas and Club America. Known as one of the most intense rivalries in Mexican soccer, Ludueña’s first impression reminded him of one thing.
“It was a party,” he said about the game played in front of 65,000 fans in famed Estadio Azteca. “I had never experienced [something like] that,” he added.
“It was the first time, winning, and I think it was a complete performance,” he said of the match.
“I had a chance to give fans happiness. The fans, like us, had suffered the bad results; now things are starting to happen and what better than with a result against America.”
Ludueña scored two goals for Pumas in the 3-1 win that Saturday evening, but the second one caught everyone’s attention.
Standing some 30 yards out, Ludueña blasted a free kick over the Club America wall and past the goalkeeper to put Pumas in front for good. The term “golazo” is thrown around a bit too often in Mexican soccer, but this shot was the pure definition of the term for an incredible goal.
“When they don’t give you a good view or a there’s a barrier, it’s really difficult,” he said about lining up for a free kick. “I aimed at that post and it went there.”
Club America was a man down in the match, but for much of the match you couldn’t tell. They were pushing Pumas’ defense to the brink up to that point, but Ludueña says everything changed at that moment.
“I think the goal finished them,” Ludueña said. “Then the game opened up and they had one less player. They had to chase us and I think that’s when Pumas were able to take advantage.”
Later, in the 82nd minute, 20-year old Pumas striker Roberto Daniel Ramirez gave Pumas their third and final goal of the afternoon to put the match out of reach.
Ludueña complimented the young academy star and says Pumas are always competitive because of their development program.
“He has done an important job,” he said of Ramirez. “He’s taken advantage of the minutes Profe [Jose Luis Trejo] has provided him; and he is a player that still has a lot to give.”
Pumas are known for their youth academy and have produced a number of stars in their rich history.
“It’s awesome,” Ludueña stressed. “It gives the guys below an incentive and lets them know there is always opportunities for them.”
“They are the future of Pumas,” he added.
For now, Ludueña likes the changes Pumas have made and knows the club is on the right track. There is still six weeks left in the Clausura and the team has yet to achieve its goals.
Similar to what Ramirez told Pumas English last month, Ludueña dreams of success in a Pumas uniform measured by one thing – a title.
“To crown ourselves champions,” he said was his biggest goal for this year. “I think that’s every player’s dream and God willing it will happen with this institution.”
“When you obtain that [championship], it’s something beautiful in your career,” he added. “You don’t change that moment for anything. When I come to another team, my goal is always to be champion.”
2014 marks ten years in the Mexican first division for Hachita, but he feels he continues to compete and has a lot to offer. Now that he’s with one of Mexico’s most historic organizations, he simply wants to be part of something special.
“I want to leave a mark [with UNAM],” he said regarding his legacy with the club.
“I always say I want to be here a long time, to bring a lot of happiness to the fans, the pay them back for the confidence they had in me.”