The Tijuana Xolos are in the Liga MX Clausura 2018 semifinals after taking down Monterrey in the quarterfinals of the competition. The first leg of the series ended 1-1 at the Estadio Caliente, which did put the Aztec Canines at a disadvantage heading into this second leg. The Border City Dogs were obligated to get a win or obtain a draw of two goals or more.
This seemed like a nearly impossible task against one of the best teams in the Liga MX away from home. Diego Cocca’s side had only scored a goal away from home in eight road games this season and it was unlikely that the offense was going to turn up in such a vital match. The atmosphere was subpar at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer as several fans were heartbroken after the Monterrey women’s team lost the Liga MX Femenil final to archrivals Tigres UANL.
The fans would suffer another heartbreak on Saturday night as the Xolos would get a 2-1 win and advance to the semifinals of the Clausura 2018. The game started off with a quick pace as Miller Bolanos opened up the score just five minutes into the encounter. The Ecuadorian forward released an ambitious shot from outside of the box that deflected off of one of Monterrey’s players and somehow found the back of the net.
Diego Cocca implemented an intelligent counter-attacking style of play against the mastermind Antonio Mohamed. This worked in the 22nd minute as Juan Martin Lucero found the back of the net with a tap-in in front of Hugo Gonzalez’s net. Gustavo Bou provided an incredible assist on the scoring play as he took the ball from Jose Maria’s feet with a slide on the right flank, then went on to cross the sphere into the penalty area.
The first half stayed with an upbeat tempo, but the second half was quite possibly the most intense 45 minutes the Xolos played all year. Monterrey came out of the gates with a goal by Dorlan Pabon in the 46th minute to cut the deficit and make it a 2-1 scoreline. The score remained the same after Pabon’s goal for the rest of the encounter, but there were some clear chances from both sides.
The intensity grew as the minutes passed, and a brawl even broke out between the players. Miller Bolanos went on to grab and push one of the linesmen, which could result in some kind of ban for the Ecuadorian player. The Xolos were not playing the best soccer and resulted to a physical style of play with some time-wasting to frustrate the Rayados’ players.
— @Xolos_En (@xolos_en) May 6, 2018
This worked effectively, but it came with a price as Ignacio Rivero received a red card in the 90th minute of the match. The Uruguayan midfielder will miss the first leg of the semifinals, and that could be an important blow to the team. The result was fantastic and ultimately made the Xolos’ season a complete and utter success regardless of any future results. The Aztec Canines could either face Toluca or Club America in the semifinals, but it will be a tough match regardless of the opponent.
Man of The Match: Pablo Aguilar
Pablo Aguilar has been one of the Xolos’ best players this year and has been one of the best signings in the entire Liga MX this season. The Paraguayan defender has stayed consistent all year long and provided another top-notch performance with 12 clearances, five interceptions, three blocked shots, and 12 of 14 duels won. Aguilar seemed to be all over the final quadrant of the pitch and really left everything on the field on Saturday night. It is safe to say that this result would not have been possible without Aguilar’s effort and leadership in the backline.
Main Talking Point: Anti-Soccer
Some people call it anti-soccer, others just being filthy, but the physical style of play worked in this game and has worked all season for Club Tijuana. The Xolos, finishing the encounter with 19 total fouls, five yellow cards, and a red card, really use this style of play in their favor. Other managers in the past, like Puebla’s Enrique Meza, have complained about the Xolos aggressiveness, but so far it has earned the border city team a ticket to the semifinals.
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.