A little less than four years after winning the organization’s only Liga MX championship in the 2012 Apertura, Tijuana is now six games away from lifting a league title for just a second time.
However, before the roster can begin dreaming about potentially hosting the second and final leg of the 2016 Apertura final, Xolos will have to overcome a quarterfinal series against their rivals, Leon. Although the matchup isn’t as historic or storied as others like the Clasico Tapatio or the Clasico Regiomontano, the battle between the two squads is not one to be overlooked.
Dating back to their initial meeting in 2007, both teams have had numerous noteworthy battles in the Mexican first and second division. Whether it be in the memorable playoff clashes in 2007, 2011, 2012, or the several exciting league matches, there is rarely a lack of intensity from the two clubs who are continuing to build a fascinating rivalry.
Now, in the current Apertura tournament, Tijuana will have a chance to stamp its authority during the first leg of the quarterfinals in Leon on Wednesday night — which won’t be easy.
Los Panzas Verdes have only lost once at home this season and are currently on fire with their 10-game undefeated streak. Xolos, on the other hand, have lost two of their last three away matches.
Although many could point out Tijuana’s position as the #1 seed in the playoffs, it’s tough to ignore the team’s poor form that has only produced a meager tally of five goals in the last six games. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Xolos were content with an early spot in the Liguilla, but the club has struggled to recreate the same magic which once made it the most dominant squad in the league.
Looking ahead to Wednesday, Tijuana will have an opportunity to reclaim that dominant status, but it will surely prove to be difficult.
In the first quarterfinal leg, Xolos manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera will need to be cautious of Leon’s direct and vertical attack that loves to move quickly up the pitch. This means that certain defenders like Damian Perez and Michael Orozco, who have recently looked disappointing, will need to be at their very best in the first quarterfinal match.
Midfielder Guido Rodriguez will also have the massive responsibility of halting the creation of Leon’s movement in the attack. The Argentine has seemed a bit lost in the last couple games and will need to regain his usual aggressive and exciting energy.
In the attack, one of Tijuana’s many talented options will need to take charge against a Leon side that has at times appeared questionable defensively. Los Panzas Verdes have impressed many with their attacking strength, but are also capable of faltering against the likes of Dayro Moreno, Gabriel Hauche and Aviles Hurtado.
As for Leon, Mauro Boselli will lead the frontline and will be the team’s catalyst going forward. With 10 goals and three assists in the regular season, expect the Argentine to be a difference-maker during the first quarterfinal encounter. It’s also important to note other players like Fernando Navarro and Elias Hernandez who will surely be keen on sprinting up the wings.
On paper, Wednesday’s match could turn into an exciting playoff battle between two attack-friendly teams. Both squads will throw plenty of numbers forward in hopes of gaining an early advantage in the Liguilla. Keeping this in mind, goalkeepers Federico Vilar and William Yarbrough will have plenty of work to do in the first leg.
It’s difficult to predict a winner here, but with a focus on the attack from both sides, Wednesday’s game is set to finish with an exciting draw.
Predicted score: Leon 2-2 Xolos