The Tijuana Xolos hosted Santos Laguna in week 11 of the Liga MX Clausura 2017 this March 17, 2017. It was a vibrant night at the Estadio Caliente with the atmosphere of a playoff game. The home support is, of course, always an advantage to the Xoloitzcuintles, but there was a decent number of Santos Laguna fans present at the Mictlan.
Joe Corona was going to miss the game because of a red card in the week 9 encounter against Pachuca. It was difficult to try and predict what formation and what players Miguel Herrera was going to use in the game due to Corona’s absence, but nobody expected the drastic changes that ‘Piojo’ made to his starting 11.
Herrera went with what appeared to be a 4-4-2 formation. Gibran Lajud was in between the sticks. Michael Orozco, Damian Perez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, and Carlos Vargas made up the Canine’s defense. Juan Carlos Medina and Guido Rodriguez acted as holding midfielders, while Aviles Hurtado and Victor Malcorra pushed forward. Finally, the strike partnership was made up of Milton Caraglio and Henry Martin.
The lineup that ‘Piojo’ presented was interesting for several reasons. The formation for starters, although it had been used this Clausura, was odd since Herrera had been using a 4-3-3 for the past few weeks. The formation was also not a traditional 4-4-2, with some players like Aviles Hurtado not having a natural position and just roaming around the pitch. The exclusion of Paul Arriola was also peculiar, as the Chula Vista native had shown good form in the Copa MX matches against Club America and Monarcas Morelia. The oddest thing about the Xolos’ lineup was the inclusion of Henry Martin and 18-year-old Carlos Vargas, who were starting their first two games of the Clausura tournament. The inclusion of Martin remained a mystery, but apparently Victor Aguilera had sustained an injury that kept him out of the game.
The game turned out to be a frustrating one for Miguel Herrera, the Xolos fans, and the players for the entire 90 minutes. The frustration began very early in the encounter. In the eighth minute of the match a debatable challenge inside Santo Laguna’s penalty area on Milton Caraglio, that could have gone either way, was ruled as not a foul. Miguel Herrera immediately started shouting at the referee and the frustration on the night began for the Mexican manager and the border city side.
The first clear chance of the game fell to Santos Laguna in the 21st minute. Youngster, Ulises Rivas, had a shot from about 23 yards out that 23-year-old goalkeeper, Gibran Lajud, managed to keep out to keep the score level. The 0-0 score line would not last, the first goal of the match coming in the 22nd minute of the encounter. The ‘Guerreros’ tried another long-range attempt from about 22 yards out, but this time the ball fell beautifully into the back of the Xolos’ net off a shot by veteran, Osvaldo Martinez. The Paraguayan’s shot fell perfectly into the right-hand corner of Tijuana’s net. Not Gibran Lajud, Luis Michel, or any goalkeeper in the Liga MX could have prevented that shot from going in. The frustration grew at the Estadio Caliente, with the local support thinking a penalty was not called in their favor and now the score line not being in their favor. After the game, assistant coach, Diego Ramirez, commented on this goal saying, “A mistake by us outside of the penalty box cost us a goal that completely changed the game”.
The clearest chance in the first half for the Aztec Canines came in the 33rd minute of the encounter. Victor Malcorra sent in a cross to Milton Caraglio, which Santos’ defender, Nestor Araujo, almost put in his own net, but goalkeeper, Jonathan Orozco, was there to keep the ball out of harm’s way for his team. Frustration grew even more in the Estadio Caliente, goalkeeper Orozco now being the scapegoat for the local fans of the Xolos’ struggles in the game.
The first half ended with the away team up on the score line and looking like the more dominant team. Santos Laguna ended the first half with more possession of the ball, with 53 percent, and with more shots on goal. The ‘Guerreros’ had four shots, two on target, while the Xolos had three shots and none on target. The domination by Santos Laguna was very clear, the defense stopping any attack that the Xolos tried to generate. The obscure formation that Miguel Herrera was utilizing also played a role, with the players seeming lost as to what their roles were.
The second half kicked off at the Estadio Caliente with the fans fully engaged in the encounter and everyone keeping a close watch. Miguel Herrera immediately made a substitution at half-time, taking out Juan Carlos Medina for Paul Arriola. The San Diego native was brought on in the game to try and generate more rhythm and attack that the Xolos were lacking. In the 59th minute, the Prehistoric Dogs would get their second clearest goalscoring opportunity of the game. A corner kick perfectly executed by Victor Malcorra found Milton Caraglio inside the penalty area. The Argentine forward released a potent header that unfortunately was saved near the goal-line by Jonathan Orozco. The frustration was felt at the border city fortress, with fans releasing anger directed at the players and at the goalkeeper, Jonathan Orozco.
In the 63rd minute of the encounter, ‘Piojo’ opted for another substitution to try and change up the game. Henry Martin, who had a sluggish game, was brought off for Matias Pisano. The substitution did not generate much, the game going along the same way with the intensity on the pitch and in the stands. In the 76th minute of the match, Herrera made his last substitution, adding to the attack, bringing on striker, Juan Martin Lucero, for defender, Carlos Vargas.
A minute later, the frustration reached its highest peak at the Estadio Caliente. Aviles Hurtado appeared to have been knocked down inside of Santos Laguna’s penalty area, but upon further review seemed to have exaggerated the contact and was trying to fool the referee. Miguel Herrera exploded on the sidelines, releasing all his bottled frustration from the match on the official. ‘Piojo’ was suspended from the game and proceeded to stay in the stands to watch the game, where he would have an altercation with a fan. In the 84th minute, Gibran Lajud came up big again for the border city side, blocking a shot by Djaniny Tavares. There was still that glimmer of hope for the Xolos fans, with the game intensifying and spaces opening. In the 86th minute, that hope was quickly taken away when an altercation between Djaniny Tavares and Guido Rodriguez resulted in Rodriguez’s second yellow card of the game, which meant he, like his manager, would be out of the game.
With a man down and without Miguel Herrera at the sidelines, there seemed to be no answer to this frustration-fueled night at the Estadio Caliente. The fans kept their determination as the players on the pitch did as well. The 90 minutes were finally up at the Estadio Caliente which put an end to the frustration. Four minutes of added time were given to the game and this is where the frustration was released from the Xolos and moved on to Santos Laguna. In the 92nd minute of the match, Aviles Hurtado showed his fighting spirit and had an ambitious shot from about 25 yards out that Jonathan Orozco ended up saving. But on the rebound, there was Juan Martin Lucero to tap the ball in and restore order at the stadium.
The Estadio Caliente released its frustration and released an extremely loud “goal” call by the 30 thousand plus Xolos fans in attendance. The game finished 1-1, and the frustration turned into an amazing game, in which somehow the Xolos ended up getting a point from. The frustration turned on to Santos Laguna and Jose Manuel de la Torre who turned the three points they already had in their back pocket into one point that felt more like zero. ‘Chepo’ de la Torre did say after the game that “the draw felt like a loss”.
For the Xolos, the game had to have felt like a victory even with all the problems that occurred in the match. Aviles Hurtado went on to say what the key to the game was. Hurtado said, “The determination of the team was fundamental”. With a man down, and without Miguel Herrera, the Aztec Canines overcame all odds and tied the game in the dying seconds of the encounter. The match was one of the most exciting of the tournament at the Estadio Caliente, with the stadium being the loudest it has been all Clausura after the tying goal in the 92nd minute. The match had a true playoff atmosphere and did not disappoint with the on-field display. While this game may have repercussions on future matches, for now, Fuerza Tijuas!