The Tijuana Xolos played the first leg of their semi-final matchup against Tigres UANL this Thursday, May 18, at the Estadio Universitario in Monterrey.
Unlike other games in the past, the Xolos were going into this match as the underdogs and were not expected to get a favorable result.
Miguel Herrera did switch it up for this encounter and decided to go with a 5-3-2 formation. Gibran Lajud was in net with Juan Carlos Nunez, Carlos Vargas, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Hiram Munoz, and Damian Perez forming the back five. The three midfielders were Paul Arriola, Guido Rodriguez, and Ignacio Malcorra. Finally, the attacking duo consisted of Milton Caraglio and Aviles Hurtado.
A big absence from the lineup was Joe Corona, who could have easily been in it if Herrera decided to play Paul Arriola as a wing-back. Corona had a solid quarter-final performance against Monarcas Morelia and “El Piojo” did not even decide to play him off the bench. The decision was a peculiar one and Corona’s distribution was clearly needed in midfield.
From the initial whistle, Tigres UANL seemed like the more dominant team, playing beautifully connecting passing, and not allowing the Xoloitzcuintles to do much with the sphere. Juan Carlos Valenzuela was injured very early, in the 21st minute, which forced Miguel Herrera to sub out Nunez for Luis Chavez. The decision to bring on Chavez was not the best as the youngster struggled to produce much of anything throughout the encounter.
Gibran Lajud had emerged as the hero in the quarterfinals matchup against Morelia and was already making an impact in this game. In the 29th minute, Lajud impeded a header from going into the net by Tigres’ midfielder, Jesus Duenas. The Mexican goalkeeper made a tremendous leap to stop the shot and the score remained level at 0-0. In the 39th minute, Lajud showed up again, punching away a dangerous free kick by Lucas Zelayaran.
The home side kept on pressuring the border city side and a goal seemed imminent before the first half ended. In the 42nd minute, Tigres UANL achieved that goal in a glorious play by the attack. A pass by Ismael Sosa near the penalty area bounced off one of the Xolos’ defenders and found Lucas Zelayaran. The Argentine stopped the sphere with his cleats and held it down for a perfect finish in front of Gibran Lajud’s net. The team from Monterrey doubled its lead just a couple of minutes before the first goal. A quick string of passes by the home team was too much for the Xolos’ defense to handle. A quick pass into the area caused a Xolos’ defender to try and pass the ball back to Gibran Lajud. The pass was very weak and the defender fell trying to recuperate the ball, which allowed Javier Aquino to go into the penalty area with a quick burst of pace and put the ball past Gibran Lajud for the second goal of the encounter.
The Aztec Canines had played a pitiful first half, and nothing much else changed in the second half. The game did have a dramatic change in pace as the second half started out very slow. There were no opportunities that posed any threat for either side up until the 70th minute. A cross by Tigres’ Ismael Sosa came in dangerously into the penalty area. Luckily Guido Rodriguez was there to clear the ball from danger and send it over Gibran Lajud’s net. Miguel Herrera did try a couple of changes, first bringing on Henry Martin for Milton Caraglio in the 71st minute and then taking out Aviles Hurtado for Matias Pisano in the 79th minute.
The substitutions made no impact and the Xolos still struggled heavily to break past the rigid midfield and defense that Tigres UANL does have. The Xoloitzcuintles seemed hopeless out on the field and the game ended like the first half had finished, with a 2-0 score line. The Xolos will have to at least score two goals in the second leg at home to advance to the final, which seems almost like an impossible task. The Xolos may receive some sort of confidence boost by playing at home, but if they play like they did today, a semi-final exit for the team is guaranteed. Fuerza Tijuas!