Following a late goal from Luis Chavez in the 86th minute, Tijuana was able to walk away with a narrow 1-0 win over Veracruz on Saturday night. It wasn’t the most thrilling home performance from Xolos, but that will likely matter little to manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera.
Regardless of Sunday’s results, Herrera has now secured a spot at first place in the regular season. Since the start of the short tournament format, Tijuana is now the first Liga MX club to finish as the No. 1 seed for the playoffs in two consecutive competitions.
Not bad for a team that almost began flirting with relegation a year ago.
It’s a historic moment for Herrera and Xolos, as well as Mexican soccer, but the squad shouldn’t spend too much time celebrating. The Liguilla is set to begin in the upcoming week, leaving a short amount of time for Tijuana to prepare for a title chase.
Here are three Xolos talking points after the recent victory against Veracruz.
1. Tijuana will face Morelia in the playoffs
No matter what happens on Sunday, Xolos will face Morelia in the first round of the Liguilla.
Although this might seem easy on paper, the 8th seed has been fantastic in recent weeks against decent opposition. One week after dominating Pumas with a 4-0 win, Los Canarios closed out the regular season with a highly impressive 2-1 victory over Monterrey.
Momentum is key in the playoffs, and with Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz finding the back of the net four times in his last two matches, Morelia shouldn’t be taken lightly.
For those who remember, Los Canarios are also one of only four squads in the tournament that have been able to beat Tijuana. Back in the first week of the Clausura, Morelia stole three points from Xolos through an impressive 2-0 win at home.
Tijuana is undoubtedly the favorite in the approaching quarterfinal series, but should still be cautious of the motivated club that not only avoided relegation, but also gained a memorable victory against Monterrey.
2. Quiet end for Xolos’ attack before the Liguilla
Tijuana deserves plenty of praise for its frontline that finished with 30 goals in 17 league games. Barring an incredible performance with 7+ goals from any team on Sunday, Xolos will finish the regular season with more goals than any other Liga MX club.
That said, during the past couple of weeks, the roster has looked more reserved than usual going forward.
Chavez, who is a backup for Xolos, was the only player able to find the back of the net against Veracruz. A week earlier, Tijuana was held scoreless by Tigres. Looking at the squad’s leading goalscorer, Aviles Hurtado has now gone three matches in a row without scoring.
Much of this probably has to do with an early place secured in the playoffs, but the team will need to wake up once again in the attack in order to fight for a league title this season.
3. Lesson learned from last year
A win is a win, and no matter how narrow the margin was versus Veracruz, Xolos have avoided a loss before the Liguilla.
As mentioned earlier this week, part of Tijuana’s downfall in the 2016 Apertura was failing to find momentum before the playoffs. Before entering the quarterfinals opposite Leon, Xolos collected losses against Tigres and Veracruz. With low morale heading into the Liguilla, it wasn’t shocking to see Herrera and company stumble in the first round last year.
Although Tijuana was defeated once again by Tigres last week, Herrera fielded a strong starting XI on Saturday that was able to sneak past Veracruz with a narrow but significant victory to end the regular season.
Whether this means more success in the playoffs after a win in hand, remains to be seen.
Xolos man of the match — Luis Chavez
When looking at the replay of Tijuana’s lone goal, you could see Ignacio Malcorra motioning to Chavez to take Xolos’ late free kick in the 86th minute.
Malcorra, Tijuana’s set-piece master, could have easily taken the opportunity but instead placed the responsibility on the 21-year-old Mexican. Chavez stepped up, took a deep breath, and then scored his first-ever Liga MX goal, clinching the victory and No. 1 seed for Xolos.
Post-game quote — Luis Chavez
“I’ve always hit the ball that way but I learned from Juan Arango when I got to play with him here…” – Chavez