Tijuana, B.C. Mexico
On Friday, November 3, the Tijuana Xolos played their 16th game in the Liga MX Apertura 2017 when the team hosted Leon at the Estadio Caliente.
The game had several factors that indicated that the match was going to be one of the best in this weekend of Mexican soccer. The rivalry between the two teams, the managerial change at Club Tijuana, the recent controversies surrounding the Xolos, and Leon’s tremendous form indicated an exciting encounter at the Estadio Caliente. Eduardo Coudet had been dismissed from his duties as the Xolos’ manager last Monday and Diego Torres was stepping in as the interim for the remaining games this season.
Torres has a long history with Club Tijuana, having been with the organization since 2006 when he played with the club. The Mexican manager went with a 4-4-2 formation with Gibran Lajud in net and Matias Aguirregaray, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Emanuel Aguilera, and Damian Perez making up the midfield. Damian Musto played a deeper role as a defensive midfielder while Alejandro Guido played more of an attacking midfielder. Juan Iturbe and Ignacio Malcorra played out on the wings with the strike force of Miller Bolaños and Gustavo Bou.
Before the initial whistle, the game was heating up, as was the atmosphere in and around the Estadio Caliente. There was a physical altercation between fans of both teams near the Estadio Caliente that did result in people getting injured and in need of medical care. The situation was shameful to see and has no place at any sporting event. Something that was nice to see was the Xolos’ support group “La Masakr3” paying homage to Juan Carlos Nunez, who had just played in his 300th game with the team. The fans made an incredible display honoring the Mexican player that read, “Everything I Am is Xoloitzcuintles”.
The first half of the game was underwhelming for what was expected from the match, but the Xolos did seem like the better team. Leon got the early goal in the 16th minute of the game via left-back Juan Cornejo. The backline of four was very risky for this type of game and Matias Aguirregaray was being exposed down that left flank. Despite this, Los Esmeraldas seemed very stale and did not seem like a team that was going to walk away with a win. Club Tijuana dominated possession, and the performance on the pitch seemed promising to achieve a favorable result.
The second half of the encounter started off quite stale with neither team showing initiative towards getting a result. Two substitutions that immediately made an impact were Juan Lucero coming on for Juan Iturbe in the 59th minute and Alejandro Guido being replaced with Luis Angel Mendoza in the 71st minute. In the 71st minute, the Xolos received a penalty and Ignacio Malcorra perfectly executed it to tie up the game with a goal each. Eight minutes later, Juan Lucero scored the goal that would eventually give the Xolos a 2-1 victory at the Estadio Caliente.
Lucero made a perfect pass to Gustavo Bou, and the Argentine’s shot was saved by Leon’s goalkeeper William Yarbrough, but Lucero still scored the goal on the rebound. Lucero, who had a few late-minute winners in the Clausura 2017, emerged as the hero in this game. Gustavo Bou had an opportunity to make it a 3-1 game, but failed his execution on a penalty in the 89th minute of the encounter. The Argentine tried to be flashy and tried to score the penalty with a chip down the middle of William Yarbrough’s net. The Leon goalkeeper held up his hand and impeded the ball from going into the net. The playoff race could come down to goal differential, making that miss by Bou crucial to the Xolos’ playoff run.
Luckily, that miss didn’t end up affecting this match as the Xolos came away with a 2-1 victory. The Estadio Caliente exploded in cheers at the final whistle as the home support seemed jubilant, and some even threw their beverages into the air to display their happiness. The win was monumental to Club Tijuana for several reasons, such as the Xolos’ playoff push and the rivalry between the two teams. After the game, both managers talked about the game and certain factors that came into play regarding the final result.
Leon Manager Gustavo Diaz did say that the synthetic turf and the absence of defensive midfielder Alexander Mejia played a significant factor in the result. New Xolos’ manager Diego Torres talked about several topics, including preparation for this match. Torres said, “I taught them what it means to be a Xoloitzcuintle, how to fight, and how to defend our house”. The Mexican manager also mentioned that he taught his players about the rivalry between the two teams. Torres said, “ I showed them (Xolos’ players) that we have a huge rivalry against this club. It’s a Clasico for us”. Torres is clearly thrilled with the opportunity to be the Xolos’ boss and seems to be the right man to finish off this tournament and potentially stay for the next one. The performance by the team was very solid considering the importance of the match, the rival at hand, and the plethora of problems surrounding the team. Club Tijuana will now need to defeat Toluca in the last game of the regular season and hope that other teams fail in getting favorable results in their respective games.