Last season, Tijuana found itself in a similar situation.
The team was sprinting through the 2016 Apertura with a dynamic attack that helped secure an early place in the playoffs. Xolos were the hottest squad in Mexico, and with Miguel “Piojo” Herrera in command, there were whispers of a possible league title for the club.
That all changed in November.
Two weeks before the Liguilla, Tijuana finished the regular season with disappointing losses to Tigres and Veracruz. With little momentum heading into the playoffs, Xolos were pushed out of the first round by Leon.
Lesson learned? Tijuana must avoid another defeat in the final weekend of the regular season. Herrera has likely not forgotten what occurred last year, and although the squad already has a spot secured for the playoffs, the manager will likely field a strong starting XI against Veracruz this Saturday.
“We are going to play with the best we have,” stated Herrera on Thursday. “It is very important to win and finish in first place and be the only team to finish with 30 points. We want to do things right. We want to do better in the playoffs, play a better first game,” he later added.
Xolos’ key to success — Force Veracruz to shoot from distance
Los Tiburones Rojos aren’t exactly the most attack-minded team to begin with, but it’s also worth noting that the squad has yet to score a goal this season outside of the 18-yard box.
Despite the fact that there are a couple of names who are capable of shooting from distance, Veracruz has typically found goals from working the ball into the box and capitalizing on defensive mistakes from the opposition.
This means that Xolos’ backline must remain compact throughout the match, forcing for Los Tiburones Rojos to try long-range opportunities. In the midfield, key figures like Joe Corona and Guido Rodriguez will have to help control possession by disrupting Veracruz’s movement.
Xolos player to watch — Paul Arriola
The American is due for a standout performance. Following a thrilling start to the year, Arriola has gradually had less of an impact in Xolos’ attack after March. Much of this likely has to do with a busy schedule that involved a call-up to the USMNT, but with a few consecutive starts now in hand, the 22-year-old should push for an exciting end to the regular season.
Predicted score — Tijuana 2-0 Veracruz
Veracruz should be given credit for the two recent and brilliant wins over Monterrey and Pumas. Thanks to the six points, the team has nearly guaranteed safety from relegation. The squad will surely be motivated and will look to exceed expectations with a victory that could then carry Veracruz to the playoffs.
That said, the roster’s attack is average at best and shouldn’t pose much of a threat for Xolos. Tijuana needs a win to gain some rhythm before the Liguilla, and on paper, there should be no reason why the home team won’t collect a victory. Man-for-man, Xolos are easily the stronger side.
Predicted starting XI for Xolos
Edit: Vavel’s Salvador Borboa reported on Friday night that Michael Orozco and Damian Perez will not be available for today’s match. Milton Caraglio appears to be match fit and Joe Corona is doubtful after suffering a neck injury.