The Tijuana Xolos played the first-leg of their Liga MX Clausura 2018 quarterfinals fixture against Monterrey at the Estadio Caliente on Wednesday.
It was a chilly night in the border city as the Aztec Canines were due for a very tough encounter against one of the best teams in the Liga MX. The fans were up for it as the supporters group “La Masakr3” had two separate displays at the beginning of the game and at halftime. The local fans cheered on former Xolos’ head coach Antonio Mohamed when he first stepped onto the pitch, still in gratitude for the title that he led the team to in 2012. Sixth-place Tijuana gave a valiant effort versus third-place Monterrey at the Mictlan, but could not do enough to come away with a victory.
The first goal of the match fell in the 38th minute as Dorlan Pabon hit a beautiful shot from long range to give Monterrey a 1-0 lead before halftime. The Border City Dogs wasted several scoring opportunities in the first half that went on to haunt them later on. The clearest chance came in the 29th minute when Luis Angel Mendoza took a horrible touch off a pass by Gustavo Bou and ended up releasing a weak shot that was cleared off the line before going out of bounds. Gibran Lajud was also a key factor in the first half with two key saves as he maintained the form that made him one of the most vital players on the team.
Club Tijuana looked like a completely different team in the second half than they did in the first half. In the first 45 minutes, the Xolos struggled to even connect passes at times, and in the second half, the Prehistoric Dogs were clearly the better team. The Xoloitzcuintles played like the protagonist in the second half and did tie up the match in the 52nd minute with a free kick goal by Ignacio Rivero. The goal was the first free kick goal by the Aztec Canines all season long and was Rivero’s second in all competitions since joining the team. The Xoloitzcuintles wasted more scoring chances in the second half as Diego Cocca tried to press with offensive tactics and substitutions. Damian Perez was forced off the pitch with an injury in the 66th minute and was replaced with Michael Orozco.
The whole encounter was exciting right down to the final whistle, and stayed very intense, with a few altercations between the players. The game ended 1-1 and is a result that both teams can still work with heading into the second leg. For the Xolos, it was more of a loss heading into a very tough away game against Rayados at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. However, it was much better than losing, and a slim win, or even a 2-2 draw in Monterrey can earn the Xolos a spot in the semifinals. The current result means that Monterrey goes through to the next round because of the away goal and does seem like a result that Antonio Mohamed is comfortable working with.
Man of The Match: Gibran Lajud
Offensively, the Xolos did create several chances with the efforts of Miller Bolanos, Gustavo Bou, and other players in the squad. Defensively, the Xolos were very solid as the lone goal scored by Monterrey was an absolute wonder strike from Dorlan Pabon. Gibran Lajud ended the match with just two saves, but both were key and were maybe even his most important saves of the year. The Mexican goalkeeper has stayed consistent all season long and has really proven to be a difference maker in key games.
Main Talking Point: Wasted Opportunities
The Xolos finished the game with 17 shots, seven shots on target, 63-percent possession, and just a free kick goal to show for it. The Aztec Canines wasted many key opportunities throughout the match that could have been crucial to the shape of the series overall. Those wasted opportunities demonstrated potential, but also showcased just why this Xolos’ team is not considered a top contender for the title.
Michael Orozco received his first minutes since March 10 in this game and shared his thoughts about the result after the game. Orozco said, “It was great, we got a good result. Maybe not the one we wanted, but it’s always positive to come away with a tie in the first leg of a series.”
Ex-Xolo’ Aviles Hurtado also shared his opinion on the match as well and the challenge of facing Club Tijuana. Hurtado said, “You try to do your best to benefit the team, but we know that Xolos is a very difficult rival with a very complicated defense to get past and now we focus on the game at home”.