The Tijuana Xolos suffered their second defeat of the season on Friday, February 10, when they fell by a score of 2-1 against Necaxa in front of a sold-out crowd at the Estadio Caliente.
Miguel Herrera went with a box-standard 4-4-2 formation in the game with the absence of Michael Orozco in the lineup. Gibran Lajud was in net. The defense was made up of Juan Carlos Nunez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Victor Aguilera, and Damian Perez. The Canines’ midfield was composed of Paul Arriola, Joe Corona, Guido Rodriguez, and Victor Malcorra. Finally, Herrera’s attack had Aviles Hurtado and Milton Caraglio. The players were not aware that they would play in this formation until a day before the game. I had a chance to talk to Paul Arriola and he did mention this “We thought we were going to play a line of five on Wednesday, it wasn’t until yesterday that we had to switch, because Michael wasn’t able to go.”
Throughout the game the players did seem comfortable with the formation, especially because they had utilized the formation a week earlier against Leon, which was something that Arriola did mention. “The good thing was that against Leon, after Michael had come out of the game, we switched to a line of four, so I had a little more time to adapt there.”
The first half of the encounter was dominated by the Xolos, having all of the key scoring opportunities of the first 45 minutes. The first of several came in the seventh minute of the match where Aviles Hurtado broke free against the Necaxa goalkeeper, Marcelo Barovero, but he stood in the Colombian’s way, resulting in Hurtado being hurt on the play. Hurtado looked to be in pain near the knee area, but the injury did not turn out to be anything serious as Hurtado played in the rest of the game.
The Aztec Canines would strike again in the 10th minute of the match as a header by Aviles Hurtado would go just over Barovero’s net. Shortly after, in the 11th minute of the match, Paul Arriola crossed the ball into Necaxa’s penalty area, but Barovero stopped the sphere from reaching Aviles Hurtado’s feet. In the 17th minute of the match, Tijuana continued their bombardment on Necaxa as Victor Malorra found space and wound up in Necaxa’s penalty area. The Argentine midfielder released a powerful shot towards his countryman’s net, but unfortunately the ball smashed the left post of Barovero’s net.
Miguel Herrera’s side continued to create scoring opportunities without capitalizing them towards the end of the half. In the 39th minute of the match a free-kick resulted in a cross by Victor Malcorra towards Hurtado. Unfortunately, the Colombian headed the ball right into Barovero’s hands. A minute later, Malcorra again created an opportunity, crossing the ball into the penalty area where Aviles Hurtado could not reach the ball in time. Finally, in stoppage time of the first half, San Diego native Paul Arriola released a potent strike from the right-wing just outside Necaxa’s penalty area that went wide of Marcelo Barovero’s net. The first half of the match ended with a 0-0 scoreline, that could have been 3-0 for the Tijuana Xolos.
The second half of the match started like the first, with Marcelo Barovero being a key figure for the ‘Rayos’. In the 50th minute of the match, Malcorra continued to generate chances, as he crossed the sphere in to Necaxa’s penalty area which almost resulted in an own goal by Necaxa, had it not been for Barovero. Then in the 58th minute of the match, the Argentine goalkeeper was crucial for Alfonso Sosa once again. San Diego native, Joe Corona, released a powerful shot from about 25 yards out, but Marcelo Barovero would make a spectacular save to deny the former Sweetwater High Student the goal.
In the 64th minute, the first goal of the match finally came. Unfortunately it would be for Alfonso Sosa and Necaxa. Claudio Riano would make a spectacular back-heel pass to Manuel Iturra, then Iturra returned the favor and crossed the ball into the penalty area, where Riano finished the opportunity with ease, driving the ball into the left-hand corner of Gibran Lajud’s net. The Xolos fell apart after that goal, falling into frustration throughout the reminder of the match. Juan Carlos Valenzuela got into an altercation with Necaxa’s Edson Puch in the 79th minute of the match. Shortly after, in the 80th minute of the encounter, Aviles Hurtado broke free and would completely waste the opportunity, blasting the ball into the stands. A minute after that, Miguel Herrera took off the best player of the game, Victor Malcorra, in exchange for Matias Pisano, who was making his debut for the club in the Liga MX competition.
In the 86th minute, the final blow of the game came against the Xoloitzcuintles. Necaxa did what it does best and scored a goal, catching the Xolos off guard in a counter attack. Edson Puch passed the ball inside the penalty area to Claudio Riano and the Uruguyan forward finished any hope the Xolos had of tying the game by finishing the opportunity. Alfono Sosa’s defensive style of play paid off in the game against Miguel Herrera.
The Xolos got a mercy goal towards the end of the match in stoppage time, in the 95th minute of the encounter. Juan Martin Lucero would finish an opportunity to finalize the game with a 2-1 scoreline and score his first ever goal in the Liga MX, and with the Xolos. The goal would also be the 600th goal in the Xolitzcuintes’ history, but it would still be a meaningless strike in a game that was already lost.
The Xolos did not take advantage of various opportunities, which ended up costing them the game. Necaxa’s goalkeeper, Marcelo Barovero, was also crucial to the ‘Rayos’ victory, making five saves in the game against the Canines. What we saw as skill from the Argentine keeper, Miguel Herrera saw as pure luck. Herrera said ‘He is a guy with tremendous luck”. “He finds the ball along the way, that is the luck of a goalkeeper who does things right and has good work ethic”
‘El Piojo’ also went on to blame the referees for not marking what he thought to be a clear penalty for the Xolos. Herrera said ” He said there was contact but there’s no penalty, like dude, in what world is there contact but no penalty? The rule says that if there is contact it is a penalty”.
Necaxa head coach, Alfonso Sosa, saw Barovero’s performance and the game in a distinctly different manner than Herrera. Sosa said “Usually the goalkeepers or the strikers stand out more, but generally the team performed in the way that we needed it to. On this occasion the standout player in that sense could have been Marcelo, once again.” The game was a typical game that Alfonso Sosa and Necaxa do bring to the table, being dominated in possession, having fewer opportunities, but somehow coming away with the result.
This certainly has to be frustrating for the Xolos and Miguel Herrera, who did play better than the opponent but did not receive the favorable result. Paul Arriola told me about his performance and about the game in general ” For today I thought I had a good game. I think I definitely could have done a lot better as far as be more effective in the final third. Sometimes you get a good cross, you know, and no one gets on it, and sometimes you get a bad cross and someone’s right there. It’s just one of those things you have to work on and build on the chemistry.” Unfortunately in soccer, sometimes you will get the favorable result based on good or average performances, while other times the sport will be unfair and deliver a loss to the least deserving team. The Xolos showed mercy towards the ‘Rayos’ in this game by not finishing their opportunities, which turned out to be lethal to the team. The Xolos will have a tough opponent next week in Pumas UNAM and must capitalize on all their opportunities to find a favorable result. Fuerza Tijuas!