Game: Monarcas Morelia vs Tijuana Xolos
When: Thursday, May 11, 2017
Where: Estadio Morelos
Time: 5:30 P.M. PST
TV: Azteca America
The Liga MX Clausura 2017 playoffs are underway and the Xolos will kick off postseason play this Thursday, May 11. The Xolos finished in first place during the Clausura 2017 regular season and will take on Monarcas Morelia, who finished in eighth place. The matchup is set to be a two-game series, with the combined score in the two games deciding which team will move on to the semifinals. The first leg of the series is this game in Morelia and the second game is set for Sunday, May 14, in Tijuana.
The Xolos finished in first place for a second consecutive tournament with 31 points. The Aztec Canines finished off the season with momentum, defeating Veracruz 1-0 in the final game of the regular season. This could be vital going into this game as the border city side failed to finish with a win in the Apertura 2016 and received an early first-round exit in the playoffs. The Xolos are expected to advance to the next round of the playoffs, but will not have it easy here, especially with some key absences.
Defender, Emmanuel Aguilera, has been injured and is set to miss the playoffs as well. This will leave the 18-year-old, Carlos Vargas, in the backline, forming a partnership with the experienced Juan Carlos Valenzuela. The young Vargas has performed well so far, but will have a lot of pressure in this game at his early age in such a vital game. Michael Orozco is also set to miss the game and it’s unclear whether Miguel Herrera will go with the veteran Juan Carlos Nunez or the youngster Hiram Munoz in his place. Damian Perez should be back for Miguel Herrera after missing the last two games of the regular season. The return of the Argentine will help solidify the defense, give more attacking options, and help support the wingers across the field.
The defense will be key in this game, especially with the possibility of two unproven, young defenders in the lineup. Guido Rodriguez and Paul Arriola will also have a lot of defensive responsibilities with the important absences in the backline. The amount of away goals is the tiebreaker for the Liga MX playoff games, so the Xolos will also need to try and score as many goals as possible in this match. The Aztec Canines finished as the most potent offense in the Liga MX, scoring 30 goals collectively. Scoring goals should not be a problem for Miguel Herrera’s side, although Monarcas Morelia was one of the three teams that shut out the Xolos in this tournament.
Monarcas Morelia had an amazing Cinderella story of a season in the Liga MX. La Monarquia finished in eighth place with 24 points and just made the playoffs in the final game of the season. The team from Michoacan was tied 1-1 with Monterrey away from home and were set to miss the playoffs and to be relegated to the second tier of Mexican soccer. Peruvian Striker, Raul Ruidiaz, amazingly had a 90th-minute goal that saved Morelia from relegation and got his team into the playoffs. Monarcas Morelia also made the final of the Copa MX, but lost to Chivas de Guadalajara in the final of the competition.
Los Canarios managed to beat the Xolos twice in 2017, once in the Liga MX and the other time in the Copa MX quarterfinals. The victory for La Monarquia in the Liga MX came in the opening week of the competition. The Xolos visited Morelia and were defeated 2-0. The Aztec Canines were a tough team to shutout, but the team from Michoacán was one of three teams to do it in the Liga MX Clausura 2017. In the Copa MX quarterfinals, the result was the same, but at a different venue, as Monarcas Morelia took home a 2-0 victory at the Estadio Caliente.
Even with these previous results, the Xolos are still the favorites to take the series and Monarcas Morelia head coach, Roberto Hernandez, recognizes the type of opponent he is dealing with. Hernandez talked about his opponent in a midweek press conference leading up to the game. Hernandez said, “Tijuana is one of the most consistent teams, has one of the best managers, has clear objectives and great players, one condition that no other team has, a unique pitch. There are certain circumstances that favor them.” Monarcas Morelia is a dangerous player that has no expectations going into the playoffs and has nothing to lose, which can prove to be dangerous in this series.
Players to Watch
Raul Ruidiaz is easily the best player on Monarcas Morelia. The Peruvian striker finished as the Liga MX’s top scorer with nine goals this tournament and has been a vital player for La Monarquia all season long. The 5-foot-7 striker was the player that scored the vital goal that saved Morelia from relegation and helped the team make the playoffs. Ruidiaz has scored four goals in Morelia’s last two games and scored against the Xolos in the week 1 matchup between the two teams. The Peruvian forward will be a key player to look out for in this game as he is Morelia’s main scoring threat.
Morelia’s goalkeeper did not have the starting job in the Liga MX until recently after compiling some impressive performances in the Copa MX. The Uruguayan keeper only played the last two games for Roberto Hernandez, but was great, only allowing one goal in those two games and obtaining seven saves. In the Copa MX playoffs, Sosa was the best goalkeeper of the competition. Sosa saved three penalties in the round of 16 game against Toluca to lead his team to victory. After that game, the South American goalie did not allow a goal for the rest of the Copa MX playoffs, including a shutout against the Tijuana Xolos. The Aztec Canines will need to be clinical in front of net and not waste any opportunities coming up against a very talented goalkeeper.
Hurtado finished as the Xolos’ top scorer with eight goals, and netted five assists as well. The Colombian forward is one of the best in the league at creating opportunities out of thin air and generating scoring chances for his team. Hurtado is not going into the playoffs in great form with a couple of rough games, but will need to pick it up here to give the Xolos an opportunity to take the game. Club Tijuana will need to score goals in this first leg and Aviles Hurtado will be the main player to do that.
The match is set to be an enticing duel, especially with the contrast the two teams have. The Xolos having finished in first place, and after having an early exit in last season’s playoffs, will have pressure to perform in this match. Monarcas Morelia, on the other hand, have no expectations and will have no pressure going into this series. The Xolos will not have it easy with an incomplete defense and a tough opponent that is going into the playoffs with a lot of motivation, having evaded relegation. The prediction for the match is a 2-0 win for the Xolos away from home that will be instrumental for Tijuana to maintain the lead and move on to the next round of the playoffs. 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.