Tijuana must win on Sunday night.
Following a 1-0 loss to Morelia in the first leg of the quarterfinals, Xolos have no other option. They must finish with a victory in order to make it into the next round.
A narrow win may not even be enough if Morelia scores a goal. If Los Canarios are able to find the back of the net once, Tijuana would then need to score three times in order to overcome the away-goal tiebreaker.
It isn’t an impossible task, and considering the fact that Morelia’s star striker Raul Ruidiaz is unlikely to play, Xolos still have the slightest of an advantage over their quarterfinal opposition. However, as dramatic as this second leg is now set to be, one can’t help but think of the difficult position that Tijuana manager Miguel Herrera has now put himself in.
Keeping in mind that numerous reports claim that Herrera will move back to Club America this summer, another early exit from the playoffs would be a disappointing end to his tenure with Xolos.
The manager has undoubtedly helped revive the once struggling roster, but the squad and the organization deserve much more than a quiet end to the season.
On Sunday, Herrera will have 90 minutes to avoid that unsatisfying outcome.
Key to success for Tijuana — Overwhelm Morelia’s defense
For lack of a better word, Xolos were boring against Morelia in the first leg. After allowing the early lone goal, Herrera forced numbers back and maintained a conservative approach for most of the loss.
Now, it must be Tijuana’s turn to push forward and score.
As mentioned earlier, a narrow win might not be enough either, meaning that Xolos must do their best to score at least a few goals. This also requires Tijuana’s sluggish frontline to wake up as well. Although Xolos scored more goals than any other Liga MX side during the regular season, the team’s attack has looked spiritless in recent weeks.
With a 1-0 deficit in hand, Herrera and his men must hit the ground running with high pressure on Morelia’s defense.
Tijuana player to watch — Gibran Lajud
The value of the away-goal can’t be overstated. It’s the difference between Xolos earning a spot in the final four with a 1-0 or 3-1 win. With or without Ruidiaz, Morelia will likely sit back and hope to garner a quick counter or dangerous opportunity that could provide the highly significant away-goal.
That’s where Lajud steps in.
Despite the fact that Xolos’ attack is the key piece in avoiding another early playoff exit, Lajud’s presence in net will be just as important.
The 23-year-old is a talented goalkeeper but also one that needs to refine his decision-making. After looking like Xolos’ best in the first leg, Herrera will need the young Mexican to be near-perfect this Sunday.
Predicted score — Xolos 4-1 Morelia
It’s foolish to predict the outcome of Liga MX matches, but with so much on the line, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tijuana’s attack went all out in the second leg. The roster has the firepower to gain a big win and should be hungry for plenty of necessary goals.
Predicted starting XI for Xolos