The Tijuana Xolos kicked off their Liga MX postseason campaign this Thursday, May 11, against Monarcas Morelia at the Estadio Morelos. The game was the first leg of a two-game series to decide which team will advance to the semifinals of the competition. The game was disappointing, to say the least, and did not offer the thrills that a Liga MX playoff game usually does.
Miguel Herrera stuck with his 4-4-2 formation for the game. Gibran Lajud was the goalkeeper. Hiram Munoz, Damian Perez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, and Carlos Vargas comprised the back line. The two central midfielders were Joe Corona and Guido Rodriguez while Paul Arriola and Ignacio Malcorra played out on the wings. Finally, the attacking duo was made up of Milton Caraglio and Aviles Hurtado.
The first half started off briskly with the first goal of the encounter coming in the tenth minute. A quick burst of pace by Jefferson Cuero proved to be deadly. The Colombian winger ran down the left side of the Xolos’ penalty area and provided a potent cross that found Miguel Angel Sansores. The Mexican striker was near the right post of the Aztec Canine’s penalty area and provided a decent shot that caused Gibran Lajud to put the ball into his own net. Instead of using his body to keep the ball out of the net, Lajud tried using his feet, which proved to be a fatal error that made it a 1-0 deficit for Club Tijuana.
The first half remained quiet and neither team was taking many risks, resulting in a midfield battle for possession of the ball. A key moment in the encounter came in the 38th minute, as Morelia’s top scorer, Raul Ruidiaz, had to be subbed out because of what appeared to be a knee injury. The Mexican forward, Rodolfo Vilchis, took his place and the loss of Ruidiaz can be a huge blow to Monarcas Morelia. The most important opportunity of the first 45 minutes and of the game for the border city side fell in stoppage time of the first half. Aviles Hurtado crossed the ball into Morelia’s penalty area like a magician with a majestic overhead floating cross that found Damian Perez. The shortest player on the Xolos managed to leap and provide a potent header that was directed right to the top right-hand corner of Morelia’s net. Sebastian Sosa, who had been a nuisance for the Aztec canines in the quarterfinals of the Copa MX, prevailed again and kept the sphere out of his net with a spectacular leap.
The first half ended with Monarcas Morelia up 1-0 and the Xolos not providing much offensively. The Prehistoric Dogs led in possession with 53 percent and had six shots, but had nothing to show for it at the end of the first half. The second half was even more unspectacular than the opening 45 minutes and brought little to no excitement to the Estadio Morelos. In the 60th minute of the game, the home team had another scoring opportunity. Rodolfo Vilchis broke through the Xolos back line and had a clear attempt on goal. The Mexican forward released a potent strike that Gibran Lajud kept out with a magnificent save to keep the score with the minimal deficit of 1-0. After that threat, Miguel Herrera made a peculiar substitution to his starting 11. “El Piojo” took out striker, Milton Caraglio, and brought on the defender, Juan Carlos Nunez. The decision to add an extra defender with the border city side down on the scoreboard was very odd. The players seemed confused after the substitution and were not sure what formation or what positions to play in.
The Xolos played in what seemed like a 5-4-1 formation for a while, looking to launch a possible counter attack against Morelia that never came. In the 72nd minute, Herrera made another change, bringing on the hero from the game against Veracruz, Luis Chavez, for Joe Corona. In the 73rd minute, Gibran Lajud shined again, making an incredible stop right in front of his net, stopping a shot by Rodolfo Vilchis. In the 74th minute, it was time for Sebastian Sosa to make another save as the Uruguayan keeper stopped a potent shot by Aviles Hurtado outside of the penalty area. Miguel Herrera opted for his third and final substitution in the 77th minute, taking out Guido Rodriguez for Juan Martin Lucero. Herrera had realized that his defensive style of play was not working, but at this point it was far too late for the Xolos to get anything going. In the 84th minute, Gibran Lajud pulled off another amazing save. Rodolfo Vilchis made a beautiful backheel pass to Enrique Perez who then passed it to Jorge Zarate. The Mexican winger pulled off a shot, but Gibran Lajud slapped the sphere out of bounds.
Nothing much else happened in the game and the Xolos were lucky to come away with only a one-goal deficit. The player of the game for Club Tijuana had to be Gibran Lajud, who made three vital saves in the game that impeded Morelia from achieving a greater victory. The match was not characteristic of a playoff game and did not offer a great spectacle. Miguel Herrera was not taking many risks and that backfired on the Mexican manager as the Xolos could not generate any offense. Aviles Hurtado was the man that was generating everything for the Aztec Cannes, but it was still not enough to crack Morelia’s rigid back line. The Xolos must now play a flawless second leg at the Estadio Caliente this Sunday, May 14. The border city side must win to advance to the next round of the playoffs. The task will not be simple, especially against a goalkeeper like Sebastian Sosa. One of the only positives from the game for Club Tijuana is that Raul Ruidiaz might not be available for the second leg in Tijuana. The Xolos must deliver a better performance than the one shown this Thursday to advance to the next round and not make this tournament another disappointment. 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.