The Tijuana Xolos traveled to Guadalajara this Saturday, April 1, to face Atlas at the Estadio Jalisco in the week 12 game of the Liga MX Clausura 2017. The game was set to be a hard-fought encounter and quite a difficult one for the border city side. The Xolos were going to be missing manager, Miguel Herrera and midfielder, Guido Rodriguez in the game due to suspensions received in the match against Santos Laguna.
The man in charge for the Aztec Canines was assistant manager, Diego Ramirez, who went with a 4-3-3 formation. Gibran Lajud was the man in net, the defense was made up of Damian Perez, Michael Orozco, captain, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, and 18-year-old Carlos Vargas. The midfield trio was Victor Malcorra, San Diego native Joe Corona, and Jorge Ortiz, who was replacing Guido Rodriguez in the lineup. The front three was finally made up of Milton Caraglio, Aviles Hurtado, and Juan Martin Lucero. The lineup was a bit odd with the youngster, Vargas, still in the lineup, also with Jorge Ortiz, who had not looked great in the few minutes he had played before this encounter. Another peculiar inclusion was Juan Martin Lucero, who has not really earned the right to start over San Diego native, Paul Arriola.
The match started out with a quick tempo that foreshadowed the spectacular display the Estadio Jalisco was going to witness. Atlas started it off with a goal in the 11th minute of the match. Argentine striker, Matias Alustiza, released a fizzled shot from just inside the penalty area that even bounced before going into the back of the Xolos’ net. The goal was the caused by a critical error by the 23-year-old goalkeeper, Gibran Lajud, who was horribly positioned and caught off perfectly by the veteran, Alustiza. The crowd at the Jalisco roared as the home team took the advantage abruptly as the game was starting.
The lead for ‘Los Zorros’ did not last long at all as Aviles Hurtado and the prehistoric dogs quickly retaliated two minutes later. A corner kick by Joe Corona found Aviles Hurtado perfectly. The Colombian forward has pulled off magic before, but never something like this. Hurtado did a full bicycle kick just a few steps away from the penalty spot and released a very potent strike that arrived like a heat-seeking missile into the top left corner of Atlas’ net. The goal was not only the best goal of the Xolos’ campaign, but it was the best goal of the season in the Liga MX. The goal immediately intensified the encounter and made the match a spectacle.
The score line did not settle in this game, the Xolos striking again in the 37th minute of the duel. Milton Caraglio used his strength to out-muscle Atlas’ defender, Leiton Jimenez, inside the penalty area. Then Caraglio passed the ball to Aviles Hurtado, who was positioned perfectly to tap the ball in and make it 2-1 for the border city side. Believe it or not, the score did not settle at 2-1 before halftime. Atlas’ fullback and former Tijuana Xolos’ player, Jose Antonio Maduena, took out two of Tijuana’s defenders and then released a well-located shot just inside the penalty area that made its way perfectly into Lajud’s net. Gibran Lajud did make up for the horrible mistake that caused the first goal in the compensation time of the first half. Atlas found a breakaway and was four-on-two against the Xolos defense. Daniel Alvarez released a powerful shot, but Lajud parried it and kept the ball out of danger. Heading into the half, the game was a thrilling 2-2 clash that looked like it could have gone either way. ‘Los Zorros’ did control possession in the first half with 55 percent, but the Xolos had 10 shots on goal, while Atlas only had three. The game was very even and an intense second half was expected at the Estadio Jalisco.
The second half started out like the first with the intensity rising throughout the stadium. Atlas received the first clear opportunity in the second half, coming in the 50th minute. Leiton Jimenez got his head to a cross on a corner kick, but Gibran Lajud again came up big, impeding the ball from going into the back of the net. The Aztec Canines received the big break in the 59th minute of the game. A free kick by Victor Malcorra was deflected by Martin Barragan inside the penalty are, but with his hand. Tijuana received a penalty that Milton Caraglio perfectly executed to give the Xolos the 3-2 advantage. But as the trend remained, the 3-2 score did not remain the same for long either. The Xolos had a slip up of their own in the 63rd minute. Off a cross, Atlas had a nice opportunity to score, but Michael Orozco intervened with his hand to disallow Daniel Alvarez from getting to the ball. The result was a penalty for the Red-and-Blacks which was perfectly executed by Matias Alustiza for his fifth of the tournament and his second of the game.
The match was now all square after 63 minutes with no clear winner in the game. After the goal by Alustiza, it was very clear that no team wanted to lose after giving so much in the match. In the 65th minute, Diego Ramirez opted to make the first substitution of the game, bringing on Paul Arriola for Juan Martin Lucero. In the 72nd minute, another key moment occurred in the intense duel. Jorge Ortiz appeared to have shouldered Atlas player, Fidel Martinez, in the face, which does merit a red card. The referee did see it that way and sent Ortiz off, leaving the Xolos a man down. What occurred was that Ortiz shouldered Martinez in the chest, which really only merits a yellow card. The call was a bad one by the referee, Adonai Escobedo, leaving the Xolos with the disadvantage for the remainder of the game.
The Aztec Canines had to quickly change tactics and play more defensively than they had been doing. Club Tijuana did a good job keeping the score level, Diego Ramirez making a substitution to solidify the defense in the last few minutes of the match. Ramirez took out Victor Malcorra in the 85th minute for a much more defensive option in Juan Carlos Medina. Immediately after coming on, Juan Carlos Medina had a negative effect on the game. In the 87th minute, the veteran impeded a cross from Atlas inside the penalty area, but with his hand. This gave ‘Los Zorros’ their second penalty of the game. This time, however, Gibran Lajud came up huge and stopped the shot by Matias Alustiza to keep the score leveled at 3-3.
The game was going down to the last few moments. In the 90th minute, Diego Ramirez decided to make another change, subbing out Aviles Hurtado and putting in defender, Hiram Munoz, to try and preserve the score. In compensation time Atlas had another opportunity to score as Jahir Barraza had a shot inside the penalty area, but, of course, Gibran Lajud was there to make the save and preserve the 3-3 game. The game ended in an intense 3-3 encounter at the Estadio Jalisco, with the Xolos still unable to beat Atlas away from home. This is now the fourth straight time that the two teams tied at the Estadio Jalisco, the score line almost destined to finish in a draw on Saturday night.
Gibran Lajud was the clear key player from the match, with Aviles Hurtado also emerging as a figure delivering an unthinkable goal. The match was easily the best match the Xolos have played in this season, in terms of entertainment and excitement. In terms of performance, the back line continued with its struggles without Victor Aguilera for the second consecutive week. The team struggled massively without Guido Rodriguez in the midfield and received its third consecutive red card in Liga MX games. This is also a concern because of disciplinary issues stemming from the head coach, Miguel Herrera, who still must serve four more games of suspension. The Xolos still look like a very strong team, but there are a few issues to fix within the squad to emerge as true title contenders this tournament. Fuerza Tijuas!