“We are trying to reaffirm what we did last season,” said Xolos manager Miguel Herrera during a press conference last Wednesday. “We have higher expectations, a better demand now.”
After finishing the most recent regular season in first place, Herrera wasn’t exaggerating when he stated that Tijuana now has bigger goals in mind. Although Xolos followed up the performance with an early exit in the playoffs, the recent run was inspiring after a previous tournament which saw Tijuana stumble to a spot at 14th place.
Success is now expected of Herrera, and the first step towards fighting for a 2017 Clausura title will begin with a friendly this Wednesday night against Atlas. Hosted at San Diego’s Mesa College, Xolos and company will take part in their only friendly scheduled so far for the winter off-season.
With a few new names in the roster, this week’s exhibition match should prove to be fascinating for those who want a preview of Tijuana’s squad for the new year.
Goalkeeper Luis Michel, defender Juan Pablo Meza and midfielder Joe Corona make up the three new additions for the upcoming tournament. While Michel will be battling with the young Gibran Lajud for a starting role in net, Corona will have to prove that he can work well with an option like Guido Rodriguez in the midfield.
As for Meza, the defender will need to find a spot in a backline that greatly exceeded expectations last season.
After the departure of Gabriel Hauche for Toluca, the midfield is perhaps the biggest talking point in the roster. Can Corona take charge in his spot as an attacking midfielder? Will it instead be Ignacio Malcorra who works well with Dayro Moreno and Aviles Hurtado?
Perhaps a bigger question to ask if Herrera will stick with his 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation. Xolos have done an excellent job with the manager’s attack-minded approach, but after Hauche’s move, it wouldn’t be surprising if Herrera attempted to experiment with a new formation during the upcoming friendly.
As mentioned beforehand, it will also be intriguing to see which goalkeeper gets the start on Wednesday. Following the retirement of Federico Vilar, the most practical decision would be to give the gloves to Lajud. However, if Michel is given the start and steps up this week against Atlas, it could foreshadow some time on the bench for the less experienced Lajud.
Backups like Paul Arriola, Alejandro Guido, Juan Carlos Medina and Henry Martin will also be alluring options to consider before the start of the Clausura competition. Arriola was arguably the most dangerous bench option for Tijuana in the recent Apertura, and the seasoned Medina will be pushing for more minutes after a disappointing past few months.
Fans will also need to keep an eye on Martin and Guido. Both have had their share of injury problems in the past but are also more than capable of stealing plenty of minutes and spots in the starting XI during 2017.
For those who are interested in tickets for the 7:00 pm match vs Atlas, you can purchase them here online. If you’re looking to catch some more local soccer earlier in the day, Xolos’ reserve squad will be facing off against Albion Pros on the same grounds at 3:00 pm.
Tijuana’s squad will train in the Estadio Caliente once more on Tuesday before it heads to San Diego on Wednesday afternoon. After the friendly, Herrera will have a little over a week to prepare for the team’s first game of the Clausura against Morelia on January 7th.