The Tijuana Xolos played the second leg of their quarter-final matchup this Sunday, May 14, against Monarcas Morelia at the Estadio Caliente. The first leg between the two teams did not produce an exciting encounter, but this game was much different, resulting in a spectacle at the border city fortress. The first leg ended in a 1-0 defeat for Club Tijuana and the home side only needed to win by the minimal score of 1-0 in this second leg.
Miguel Herrera went with a 4-4-2 formation for the game with some surprising changes in the starting 11. Gibran Lajud was the man between the sticks with Juan Carlos Nunez, Damian Perez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, and Carlos Vargas making up the back line. The two central midfielders were the reliable tandem of Joe Corona and Guido Rodriguez, while Aviles Hurtado and Ignacio Malcorra played out wide. The two strikers up top were Milton Caraglio and Henry Martin. The surprising additions to the starting lineup were the defender, Juan Carlos Nunez, and the striker, Henry Martin. Nunez added some experience to the back line, while the inclusion was an odd one as the Mexican striker had only played one game as a starter in the regular season.
The match started with a fast-paced tempo, distinct from the first leg between the two teams. The atmosphere was buzzing at the Estadio Caliente and had the true characteristic of a playoff game. The Xolos objective was clear with Miguel Herrera going with an aggressive formation with two natural strikers. Herrera’s tactic was to feed Milton Caraglio and Henry Martin and try to swing a ball into the area. The Aztec Canines were extremely aggressive at the start of the game and had some clear scoring chances early on. The clearest chance came in the 19th minute when Damian Perez sent in a cross that found Aviles Hurtado. The Colombian’s header smashed the post and posed a great threat to Sebastian Sosa’s net.
The Xolos continued to be the dominant team in the first half and kept on applying pressure to Monarcas Morelia. In the 41st minute, the home team received a corner kick that proved to be vital in the game. Ignacio Malcorra executed the corner and found Joe Corona, who went unnoticed and was unmarked by any of Morelia’s players. Corona released a potent header that found Henry Martin, who just tapped it in to give the border city side the slim 1-0 lead. Club Tijuana emerged as the dominant team in the first 45 minutes and Herrera’s decision to include Henry Martin in the starting 11 proved to be an excellent choice.
The second half started out with a slower pace as it seemed that Miguel Herrera was opting to maintain his lead. The Prehistoric Dogs did have a few chances, but nothing that struck real danger against Monarcas Morelia. In the 71st minute, Miguel Herrera made his first substitution of the match, taking out Milton Caraglio for Juan Martin Lucero. Caraglio had a solid game, helping the Xolos maintain possession of the ball and making an impact in the final third with his physical presence. It was clear that conformed with the 1-0 score and was looking to switch things up on the field. “El Piojo” made another change quickly after his first one, taking out Henry Martin for Luis Chavez in the 76th minute.
La Monarquia was becoming impatient with the score and tried to get past the rigid Xolos defense. Herrera’s back line was not letting anything go and Gibran Lajud was not being tested up to this point of the game. In the 79th minute, Lajud was tested for the first time in the game as he cleared a shot from danger off a free kick and a shot inside the penalty area by Monarcas Morelia. The save was a vital one as the Xolos would need to have scored three goals if Morelia scored one in the game. After a failed corner by Monarcas Morelia after the save, the Xolos launched an incredible counter-attack. Everyone pushed forward, and Aviles Hurtado found Juan Martin Lucero inside of the penalty box. Lucero showed his finishing ability that he had showcased in the regular season and put the Xolos up 2-0. The game still had a very high intensity as one goal by the visitors could have ended Tijuana’s playoff run.
In the 89th minute, Miguel Herrera made his last substitution and made a tactical change to solidify his defense. Aviles Hurtado was taken out for Hiram Munoz and the Aztec Canines parked the bus and nearly all the team in the defense to try and maintain the 2-0 lead. In stoppage time, the game intensified and the vibrant atmosphere was felt at the stadium. A ball boy was suspended by the referee for delaying the game, showcasing that everyone was trying to do their part for Club Tijuana to advance to the semifinals. The final whistle blew at the Mictlan and the Xolos came away with the 2-0 victory and with a ticket to the semifinals. The match was an exciting encounter and did not disappoint like the first game between the two teams earlier in the week. The Xolos will face a very tough opponent in Tigres UANL in the semifinals. The team from Nuevo Leon defeated Monterrey by an aggregate score of 6-1 in its quarter-final matchup. The series should be an exciting one between the two teams and the Xolos will have home-field advantage in the second leg of the match. 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.