Tuesday, Aug.29, the Tijuana Xolos played their fourth and final game in the group stage of the Apertura 2017 edition of the Copa MX.
The border city side hosted second division side Atlante at the Estadio Caliente, looking to secure its place in the knockout stage of the competition. The Xolos were going into this game undefeated in the Copa MX with five points, while Atlante only had a point and not much to play for.
Eduardo Coudet had most of his key players match-fit and available for this game with the international break, which means no Liga MX games this weekend. Joe Corona and Juan Manuel Iturbe, who had received calls to their respective national teams before, did not receive calls to play international matches this time around and featured in the starting XI for “Chacho”.
The Argentine manager started the game with a 4-4-2 formation, but made adjustments as the game went along. Jose Antonio Rodriguez started in between the sticks with Juan Carlos Nunez, Hiram Munoz, Alejandro Donatti, and Damian Perez making up the defense. The midfield consisted of Alejandro Guido and Enzo Kalinski in the middle and Joe Corona and Ignacio Malcorra on the wings. Kalinski was playing more of a defensive role while Guido pushed more forward and Joe Corona was playing in the left-midfield position. The strike partnership was a promising one with Henry Martin and Juan Manuel Iturbe up top. The starting lineup was a very potent one, with several players who are fighting for a starting role in the Liga MX.
The crowd generated a vibrant atmosphere at the Estadio Caliente, with a crowd of 24,333 filling the border city fortress. From the initial minutes of the game, Club Tijuana was the team that looked more likely to score and obtain the three points from the game. However, the Xolos were a little too ambitious in their first few opportunities, with shots from far out that sailed into the stands. In the 16th minute, a free kick by Juan Manuel Iturbe found Hiram Munoz near the right-hand post of Atlante’s penalty area, but the defender could not deliver as the ball went out of play.
The Aztec Canines kept on generating scoring chances, but were not getting anything out of it. To Atlante’s credit, the second-tier side was not holding back and really challenging the home team throughout the first 45 minutes of the game. The team from Cancun was playing an intense, physical style of play that made it difficult for the Xolos to get a consistent flow of the game. Matias Pisano was hungry for a goal, and in the 25th minute, the Argentine had a shot from outside of the box that went just wide left of the rival’s net. In the 41st minute, the clearest chance of the half, and of the game, fell to Juan Manuel Iturbe. The Paraguayan international had a one-on-one opportunity against Atlante’s goalkeeper, Eduardo Bravo, but the Mexican keeper managed to get a hand on the sphere to send it out of play. The Xolos had a promising first half of play that suggested that the Prehistoric Dogs would walk away with the three points from the game.
The second half started much more unimpressive than the first half, with a physical midfield duel for the first 15 minutes of play. Eduardo Coudet made his first substitution of the game in the 62nd minute as Henry Martin came off for Juan Martin Lucero. Martin had a weak performance, as he has had throughout the season, not providing much to the attack. Nine minutes after the substitution, in the 71st minute, the Xolos had one of the clearest opportunities for the game as Alejandro Guido had a one-on-one against Eduardo Bravo that ended in the goalkeeper’s hands after a failed attempt to chip the ball over the Mexican goalie.
After that opportunity, the game came to life again. Eduardo Coudet was really pushing his side to get that elusive goal while Atlante was opting to defend the respectable draw at the Estadio Caliente. “Chacho” made a couple more changes. Gustavo Bou replaced Matias Pisano and Ignacio Malcorra came on for Alejandro Guido. After Bou was on the pitch, Coudet switched to a 4-3-3, with the front three of Bou on the left wing, Lucero as the lone striker, and Iturbe on the right wing. Eduardo Bravo was the hero of the night for Atlante and he still had one more crucial save. In stoppage time, Gustavo Bou pulled off a shot from inside the penalty area with three Atlante defenders in front of him. Bravo got a hand on it and slapped the sphere over the crossbar and left the fans at the Estadio Caliente in awe as the Xolos could not get the ball in the back of the net.
The game somehow ended without any goals and there was no reaction by the fans at the final whistle as the stadium was left in amazement and could not believe that their team could not get a goal. Club Tijuana had a very solid performance, but could not get anything out of its plethora of chances throughout the 90 minutes. There were promising performances throughout the game. Juan Manuel Iturbe, Joe Corona, and Alejandro Guido all had very strong performances. Alejandro Guido talked to EVT and shared his thoughts on the game after the scoreless game. Guido said, “I think we did pretty well. Tough opposition, a lot of fouls in the middle, and we created a lot of chances, but we just couldn’t put them away.” The Chula Vista native also gave his thoughts on the opposition, Atlante, from the second-tier league in Mexico. Guido said, “Any team can make it difficult for you if they all run and work as a team and I think that’s what they did. They did a very good job trying not to make us play and I think they achieved that for some time, but once we created some opportunities, they had to switch their game plan”. The game was a tough one for the Xolos, but the performance on the pitch was positive and is a good indicator that the team has depth and is continuing to play the way Eduardo Coudet wants the team to function. There will be no Liga MX games this weekend, but the Xoloitzcuintles will return to action on Sunday, Sept. 10 against Pumas UNAM away from home in the eighth round of matches in the Apertura 2017.