Friday, Aug. 25, the Tijuana Xolos played their seventh game of the Liga MX Apertura 2017.
The Aztec Canines hosted Pachuca at the Estadio Caliente in front of 26,733 spectators. The clash was set to be a tremendous test for both teams, who were going into this game hot. The Xolos had been undefeated in their last three games while Los Tuzos had also won its last three games. Both teams had shaky starts to the new season and did not want to fall back to their lackluster form that had been a normality in the initial stages of the Apertura 2017.
Eduardo Coudet stuck with his 5-3-2 formation that had worked wonders for the team in its last two games, leading to two consecutive victories. Gibran Lajud was in net. The defense was formed by Matias Aguirregaray, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Alejandro Donatti, Emmanuel Aguilera, and Damian Perez. The trio in the midfield was composed of Luis Chavez, Ignacio Malcorra, and Damian Musto. Luis Angel Mendoza partnered with Gustavo Bou in the attack.
The lineup was the same as in Xolos’ 2-0 win against Santos Laguna, and just had one modification from the 3-1 win against Queretaro. New signing, Juan Manuel Iturbe, was on the bench to start the game, along with San Diego natives, Joe Corona and Alejandro Guido. Pachuca was going into this game with a plethora of injuries, including missing club captain Erick Gutierrez and star forward Edson Puch. Manager Diego Alonso opted to use two teenagers in his starting 11, but kept Japanese international Keisuke Honda on the bench to start the game. Alonso was using a peculiar five at the back formation as well, which was an odd tactic facing the Xolos’ 5-3-2 formation.
The game was hard-fought and intense from the initial whistle at the Estadio Caliente. Just 12 minutes into the game, one of the major moments of the encounter occurred. Pachuca’s Victor Guzman had a criminal challenge on Damian Perez that led to a red card. Pachuca was now a man down and was missing Guzman, who was the only major, proven offensive player in Diego Alonso’s starting 11. The Mexican midfielder had scored four goals in Pachuca’s last two games and had now had a drastic shift in his run of form. After that red card, Alonso opted to use fullback/defensive midfielder Jose “Shaggy” Martinez as a secondary striker. However, the Pachuca side did keep order after being a man down and was very compact, not allowing much space for the home team. The game turned very stale and more into a scrappy, physical battle between the two teams. In the 42nd minute, the first goal of the game finally came, and added a spark to the dull encounter at the Estadio Caliente. Matias Aguirregaray burst past the right flank and nearly went out of play before delivering a cross into the penalty area. Oscar Murillo made a disastrous error and let the ball get into the box, where Gustavo Bou struck the ball past two defenders and goalkeeper Alfonso Blanco to make it 1-0 for Xolos.
After the first half, the border city side had a slim lead that did not look locked down. Coudet’s team had a staggering 64 percent possession after the first 45 minutes, but were not creating much with the ball as Los Tuzos were doing a fantastic job locking down most spaces. The second half was much more exciting than the first as the hard-fought, physical battle continued between the two teams, but there was more ambition to get a result from both teams. Diego Alonso did bring on Keisuke Honda at half time for 19-year-old Pablo Lopez, who was not creating much in the midfield. All eyes turned to the Japanese international as there was a mix of cheers and jeers from the crowd when he was brought on to the pitch. Honda was not creating much as an attacking midfielder. He did have some nice long-range passes that could have led to scoring opportunities, but did not have much support from his teammates. In the 63rd minute, Pachuca was compensated for its hard work, and surprisingly, “Shaggy” Martinez made it 1-1 in the border city.
A couple of minutes after that goal, Eduardo Coudet brought on his star signing, Juan Manuel Iturbe, to try to get the result that was now an obligation for the Xolos. While “Shaggy” had scored the goal for Pachuca, scrappy was the perfect word to describe the game that had turned into more of a physical encounter than a soccer match. Club captain Juan Carlos Valenzuela picked up an injury in the 73rd minute and was replaced by Joe Corona as more of an offensive option. After Corona was in the game, Coudet switched to a 4-5-1 formation and pressed up the pitch to try to obtain the much-needed three points from the game.
By the 83rd minute, “Chacho” felt the pressure and knew the three points were obligatory. Henry Martin replaced Damian Perez, who had been in the mix of the intense play throughout the game. Juan Manuel Iturbe had a clear chance to get on the score sheet, but hit the ball just wide to the left. The Xolos could not break down Pachuca, who also showed ambition for a result, but also pushed all its players back. Diego Alonso was being aggressive, trying to go toe-to-toe against Club Tijuana despite being a man down.
This tactic was doomed to fail, but in the 86th minute the Xolos, Eduardo Coudet, and the fans finally obtained the goal that relieved the organization of failure and embarrassment. Off a corner kick, Damian Muto pulled off a moment of sheer magic and brilliance by lifting the ball and somehow striking a magnificent bicycle kick. The goal turned out to be the winner as the Xolos defeated Pachuca 2-1 at the Estadio Caliente. Juan Manuel Iturbe had one last chance in stoppage time. Off a counter attack, the Paraguayan international had an open net, but embarrassingly sent the ball wide to the left. Iturbe blamed the synthetic turf for his miss, saying that he needs to adapt to playing on the Estadio Caliente turf.
The result was a nice one against a very tough opponent, but considering all the circumstances at hand, the game was one that Club Tijuana needed to win. The Xoloitzcuintles completed the task, but struggled severely against a Pachuca side that “maintained order and intended to play” as described by Eduardo Coudet. “El Chacho” also said that the Xolos “still need to continue to grow” which was very evident after this match. The Xolos achieved the favorable result, but the win was not convincing against a weakened Pachuca side, who were missing several key starters and were a man down from very early on in the game. The Xolos next test will be against second division team Atlante in the Copa MX and then they will face Pumas UNAM on Sunday, Sept. 10, away from home in the Liga MX.