The Tijuana Xolos faced Monterrey at the Estadio Caliente last Friday, February 24. The game kicked off week 8 of the Liga MX Clausura 2017. The Xolos won by a score of 2-0 and were very dominant in the game. There are interesting things to discuss from the game.
The first is the lineup that Miguel Herrera presented. Herrera went with the 4-3-3 lineup for the first tie in this tournament; Gibran Lajud in net, with Michael Orozco, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Victor Aguilera, and Damian Perez making up the defense. The midfield trio consisted of Joe Corona, Victor Malcorra, and Guido Rodriguez, while the attacking trio was made up of Milton Caraglio, Aviles Hurtado, and Juan Martin Lucero.
Michael Orozco was getting his first game since coming back from injury, while Juan Martin Lucero was getting his first start of the tournament. San Diego native, Paul Arriola, was on the bench for the first time in this Clausura tournament, after seven straight appearances as a starter.
The adjustments were interesting, and as said before, Miguel Herrera is one of the managers who adapts the best, depending on the circumstances. In this case, Herrera decided to fight fire with fire, utilizing an offensive formation against an offensive heavy team in Monterrey.
In the first 10 minutes of the encounter, the match had no clear winner, it was a hard-fought game. The Xolos did not seem completely adapted to the formation that Miguel Herrera brought out. Juan Martin Lucero, specifically, seemed out of place in his first start with the team, not generating much of an attack.
The 11th minute came around and the Xolos received their first opportunity of the game. Milton Caraglio headed a ball wide of Monterrey’s net off a corner kick. The Xolos looked dominant after that key opportunity, holding the ball and creating opportunities. The first goal of the game for the border-city side came in the 17th minute. The Aztec Canines were passing the ball beautifully, a nice string of passes by Aviles Hurtado, Victor Malcorra, and Guido Rodriguez were key to the goal. The ball found Malcorra near the edge of the penalty area near the left-hand side of Monterrey’s net. Malcorra crossed the ball perfectly on the ground to Juan Martin Lucero, who somehow released a shot in between Monterrey’s defensemen, Cesar Montes. The goal was a game-changer, as a true showing of sheer dominance came for the Xolos after the goal.
Not many opportunities followed the goal by either side. Antonio Mohamed’s side looked desperate to generate anything out on the pitch. Tijuana’s core of defenders were impeding the ‘Rayados’ from doing anything. Most notably, Michael Orozco was making a huge difference out on the pitch, sliding for the ball, heading the sphere out of danger, doing a fantastic job overall defensively. Guido Rodriguez was also dominating midfield, putting in a good work ethic both defensively and offensively. The Xolos went into halftime dominating the opposition at the Estadio Caliente.
The second half, at first glance, looked like it would be a different story. As soon as the second half started, in the 46th minute of the game, Monterrey had a very good scoring opportunity. Gibran Lajud made a spectacular save, but then the sphere landed at the feet of Monterrey striker, Rogelio Funes Mori. The Argentine striker air-mailed the ball in a wide open net, wasting the visitor’s clearest chance of the game.
Antonio Mohamed knew his team needed a change of pace, so in the 58th minute of the game, ‘El Turco’ brought on two very offensive-minded substitutions. The Argentine manager replace defender, Edgar Castillo, and defensive midfielder, Celso Ortiz, for foward, Yimmi Chara, and attacking midfielder, Arturo Gonzalez. Mohamed was looking to go all out against Herrera’s Xolos.
The substitutions did not seem to help out the visiting team as Monterrey seemed more lost than in the first half. The Xolos saw their position on the field and took advantage of the situation and kept on attacking. The second goal of the game came in the 65th minute. The Xoloitzcuintles got an opportunity for a free kick, just outside the half moon of the opponent’s net. Who else but Victor Ignacio Malcorr to take the opportunity. The Argentine midfielder located the ball perfectly into the top-right corner of Monterrey’s net. Goalkeeper, Hugo Gonzalez, helplessly tried to save the shot, but could just get a hand in, which was not enough to impede the ball from going into the net.
Shortly after the goal, a crucial substitution came for Miguel Herrera in the 66th minute. ‘El Piojo’ would bring on Paul Arriola for Milton Caraglio. This was a fantastic tactical change to lock down the defense and switch to a line of five in the defense. In the 72nd minute of the game, Herrera made another substitution, bringing on Henry Martin for Juan Martin Lucero. Despite the goal, Lucero was not that impressive on the pitch, not adding much to the attack.
At this point, the Monterrey players were desperate, the away side had nothing going on in the game. The Xolos made their opposition look non-existent in the match. The defense was also struggling as Monterrey’s main striker, Dorlan Pabon, had to drop back and defend on a few occasions. In the 81st minute, Herrera made another change by bringing on Matias Pisano for Aviles Hurtado. Hurtado had been great in the match, humiliating the opposition on certain plays with the skill he has on the mound. The clashes Hurtado had with Pabon and Edwin Cardona throughout the game were really a spectacle to see.
Even with five defenders, Herrera’s side was pushing forward with Paul Arriola and Damian Perez. Arriola, at times, was the furthest man up the pitch for the Aztec Canines. The Xolos locked down the encounter in the dying minutes of the match as Mohamed watched with discomfort. The sold-out crowd was in full effect as the final whistle blew at the Estadio Caliente that secured the Xolos the three points from the encounter.
After the game, Antonio Mohamed did admit that the Xolos were far superior. Mohamed said ” They outplayed us in every aspect of the game.” Mohamed’s excuse for the loss was as petty as his team’s performance. The Argentine manager blamed the field for being wet as one of the key factors that ultimately decided the encounter.
Miguel Herrera had an amusing response to this saying ” Maybe when he was over here he didn’t water the field, and I do”. Herrera also expressed the importance of home-field advantage that may have decided the game. ” The field is yours. You need to take advantage of all the circumstances that playing at home offers. The fans, the stadium, the field, the state of the field, if you water it, if you want a fast-paced game, if you want a slow-paced game”. Apart from the players having an amazing game, home-field advantage may just have been that extra factor that propelled the Xolos to victory. The Xolos will have that home-field advantage for two more consecutive games. First against Sonora in the Copa MX this Wednesday, then against Pachuca in the Liga MX Clausura 2017 this Friday. Fuerza Tijuas!