The Tijuana Xolos played in the quarterfinals of the Copa MX competition against Monarcas Morelia this Tuesday, March 14 at the Estadio Caliente. The match was set to be a mismatch between two teams on opposite sides of the spectrum in the Liga MX, with the Xolos fighting for the title and Morelia fighting for relegation.
Miguel Herrera continued with his now trusty 4-3-3 formation: Gibran Lajud in net, with Juan Meza, Michael Orozco, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, and Carlos Vargas as the defense. The midfield for ‘Piojo’ consisted of Joe Corona, Victor Malcorra, and Guido Rodriguez. Finally, the attack was comprised of Paul Arriola, Milton Caraglio, and Aviles Hurtado. The inclusion of the young duo of Juan Meza and Carlos Vargas would be interesting, with the pair being the only reserve players in Herrera’s lineup.
Roberto Hernandez would opt for the alternate starting 11 he has been using with Morelia in this Copa MX campaign: Sebastian Sosa in net, with Facundo Erpen, Ignacio Gonzalez, Carlos Adrian Morales, and Carlos Rodriguez in defense. A strong midfield of David Cabrera, Mario Osuna, Cristian Penillia, and Juan Pablo Rodriguez. The strike force for La Monarquia would be the strike partnership of Gaston Lezcano and Miguel Sansores.
The Xolos were the clear favorites from kickoff, having the much stronger side and home-field advantage. Something did feel off at the Mictlan at the sound of the first whistle. There was not a sold-out crowd and the fans seemed out of touch from the game. The atmosphere was not of a playoff game, or even a regular season game, of the standards accustomed at the Estadio Caliente. Even the hardcore fans, ‘La Masakre ‘ seemed out of tune with less of a presence at the border city fortress.
Right away the home team received the first chance of the game, coming in the seventh minute, where Victor Malcorra crossed a ball into the Monarcas’ penalty area and found Paul Arriola. Unfortunately, the San Diego Native found Aviles Hurtado with his poorly executed shot instead of the back of the net.
The Aztec Canines would continue to waste opportunity after opportunity throughout the match. In the 22nd minute of the encounter, Guido Rodriguez sent a ball over the crossbar via a header. In the 17th minute of the match, Milton Caraglio gave a perfect assist towards Aviles Hurtado with his head that left the Colombian forward in scoring position. Hurtado’s shot would go far wide left of Sebastian Sosa’s net. Then in the 27th minute, Morelia goalkeeper, Sebastian Sosa, had his first of many crucial saves in the game. Milton Caraglio released a powerful header, but the Uruguayan keeper leaped perfectly to get to the ball.
The game slowed down after that opportunity with the Xoloitzcuintles looking like the side most likely to score. The atmosphere was bleak for a few minutes as if the fans knew the final score of the game. In the 44th minute, Aviles Hurtado brought hope to the fan base, getting past two of Morelia’s defenders with his magnificent skill, but then the hope was taken away as the Colombian released a weak shot right at Sebastian Sosa. In the 45th minute, the Xolos received an indirect free kick in the Monarcas’ penalty area. The sphere fell to Guido Rodriguez who released a powerful shot towards the left-upper corner of the net, but of course, Sosa was there to make an incredible leap and slap the ball out of danger.
The first half ended with the Xolos being the dominant team with far more scoring opportunities but with nothing to show for it, heading with a 0-0 score into halftime. Miguel Herrera knew he needed a change to bring a spark to the team. ‘Piojo’ decided to sub off Paul Arriola in the 56th minute to bring on Juan Martin Lucero. The Argentine forward immediately had an opportunity to shine in the 62nd minute. Lucero released a solid strike heading into the left bottom corner of Morelia’s net, but Sebastian Sosa made an incredible dive and evaded the danger.
After playing it safe, Morelia started to push forward, creating some chances. First, in the 67th minute, Cristian Penilla smashed the left post of Gibran Lajud’s net. Shortly after, in the 69th minute, Miguel Sansores released a well located shot from about 22 yards out that found the bottom left corner of the Xolos’ net. An already dull atmosphere at the Estadio Caliente turned worse in the 72nd minute, when Rodolfo Vilches found Cristian Penilla inside of the Xolos’ penalty area. The Ecuadorian midfielder put the ball in the net to make it 2-0 for the away team.
Miguel Herrera was clearly frustrated and opted for his remaining substitutions of the game first in the 73rd minute, when Carlos Vargas was brought off for Henry Martin, then in the 76th minute of the match when Joe Corona was brought off for Matias Pisano. The Prehistoric Dogs had a few more scoring opportunities in the dying minutes of the match. First in the 85th minute, where a shot by Guido Rodriguez inside the penalty area was blocked by one of Morelia’s players. Next, all hope would be lost for the border city side and the fans at the Estadio Caliente in the 87th minute of the match. A nice play by the Aztec Canines would give an opportunity for Henry Martin to attempt an incredible bicycle kick inside of Morelia’s penalty area. Somehow, Sebastian Sosa saved the potent strike by Martin, then Juan Martin Lucero, on the rebound, tried to tap the ball in, but ended up giving the ball right to Sosa’s hands. It was very clear that the Xolos were not going to score today at the Estadio Caliente.
The fans hopelessly chanted “Ole, ole ole, Xolos, Xolos” as if a cry for help in the dying minutes of the match. The final whistle marked the glory of Sebastian Sosa and Monarcas Morelia and the downfall of the Xolos being knocked out of the Copa MX. After the match, Miguel Herrera talked about the game at the post-game press conference. Herrera talked about being knocked out of the Copa MX. Herrera said, “When someone tries to reach the final, is trying to lift the cup, of course, when you don’t get there, it’s a failure, of course, it’s a failure.”
Talking about the actual gameplay on the pitch by his team, Herrera said, “It’s tough when you have that many opportunities and you don’t put it in. Yeah, defensively we had errors. We had errors that gave them space to get their goals”.
Herrera, of course, had his opinions about the match officials during this match and in the Copa MX in general. “They don’t send the referees that normally officiate in the league”. “They should send referees of higher quality, knowing that at this stage it is do or die”. Herrera’s criticism of the officials was the final cry of help for the Xolos of the night as there really was no officiating errors during the match. The Xolos were simply not clinical enough in front of net, even with Sebastian Sosa having the night of his life, and there were other clear opportunities as well. The match was similar to the first match between the two teams in week 1 of the Liga MX where the Xolos had more opportunities but were less clinical. Morelia’s goalkeeper, Carlos Felipe Rodriguez, in that week 1, was also vital to their victory, like Sebastian Sosa in this match. Another match this was similar to was the 2-1 loss to Necaxa in week 7 of the Liga MX at the Estadio Caliente. The Xolos wasted countless opportunities and Necaxa goalkeeper, Marcelo Barovero, was the key player of the match.
The Xolos are knocked out of the Copa MX, with only themselves to blame, wasting several clear opportunities. Now it is time to focus on the league for Miguel Herrera and company, as Club Tijuana will host Santos Laguna this Friday, March 17. Fuerza Tijuas!
Francisco, 26, Chula Vista/Tijuana. I have been a Padres fan all my life, did most of the series previews and recaps in the Padres’ 2016 season for EVT. Now I focus more on the local soccer scene. Tijuana Xolos, San Diego Loyal, San Diego Wave.