The 2016 Apertura was supposed to be about Club America. Following centennial festivities and recent stadium renovations for the major team, this season was set to be a historic one for the most successful club in Mexico.
Instead, the Liga MX giants have struggled during most of the current Apertura tournament. Due to defensive issues, a lack of regular wins, and a worrisome form at home, manager Ignacio Ambriz was fired by ownership last month. Although his replacement, Ricardo La Volpe, has provided some small improvements recently, Las Aguilas are still at a tenuous playoff-worthy spot at 6th place in the standings.
While America has looked unexciting during its 100-year celebration, Tijuana has thrived in the Apertura under the management of Las Aguilas’ former coach, Miguel “Piojo” Herrera.
Thanks to a perfect run at home and a dynamic attack, Herrera and Xolos have been able to hold onto 1st place for most of the competition. This success in Tijuana has led to much envy from America supporters who continue to longingly remember the 2013 Clausura title won by Herrera in his time with Las Aguilas. Now, the manager will be returning to Estadio Azteca for just the second time this year as Tijuana’s coach.
During that first meeting on April 9th, Herrera and Xolos were overrun by an eager America side that gained an eye-catching 6-1 win in Mexico City. In front of over 28,000 fans at the Azteca, Las Aguilas racked up a total of 19 shots against Herrera’s disoriented Tijuana.
Since then, the tables have turned for both organizations. Xolos have looked like the hottest Liga MX team in the past couple of months while America has failed to maintain much consistency with victories gained. La Volpe will have an opportunity to collect some much-needed morale with a win against Tijuana this Saturday, but it appears unlikely that he will be able to gain three points against Mexico’s most confident squad.
That said, this weekend’s match shouldn’t be a cakewalk for Xolos either. Despite the impressive goals and performances at the Estadio Caliente, the team has generally emerged from away games this season with draws or narrow wins. Although Las Aguilas haven’t reached expectations at home, they still have the roster and talent to sneak a couple of goals past Xolos.
It’s also key to remember the possible omission of Juan Carlos Valenzuela in Tijuana’s starting XI. The 32-year-old central defender has been a key figure in the backline, but remains doubtful for Saturday’s match after recovering from an injury. Although Yasser Corona was able to do a decent job in Valenzuela’s position in Xolos’ last game, there are still justifiable worries about the bench player who has been underwhelming this season.
With or without Valenzuela, Saturday’s match will be a difficult one for Tijuana. Attacking options like Dayro Moreno and Aviles Hurtado should be able to help find the back of the net, but it may not be enough to gain three points against an America roster that also has impressive goalscorers like Oribe Peralta and Silvio Romero.
Predicted result: America 2-2 Xolos