Club Tijuana’s Five Best Players of the 2016 Apertura

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Club Tijuana’s Five Best Players of the 2016 Apertura

Although Xolos finished the Apertura with an exit in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, the team still managed to exceed expectations with a spot

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Although Xolos finished the Apertura with an exit in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, the team still managed to exceed expectations with a spot at first place in the regular season.

Due to some smart transfer movement over the summer, manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera was able to turn around his roster which once looked like a relegation contender. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Xolos eventually developed into one of the most exciting attacking teams in Mexico during the recent tournament.

Before we begin looking ahead to the 2017 Clausura, or predicting how Herrera’s squad will finish, let’s first take a look back at the five players who mattered the most to Tijuana in the Apertura.

#5 Milton Caraglio

During the first couple of months of the season, it was difficult to see why Caraglio was a starting option for Herrera. The Argentine looked lost in an agile attacking formation and rarely provided much of an impact, other than the occasional shot.

Yet, as soon as criticism began to build for the out-and-out striker, Caraglio responded with noteworthy performances that helped Tijuana sneak past difficult opponents. By the time the tournament was over, the 28-year-old finished with more assists than any other player on the squad.

There are those who justifiably see him as a lucky No. 9 who has thrived off the help of talented wingers, the kind of striker who just happens to be at the right place at the right time. That said, there is no denying the impression he made in Xolos’ run to first place.

#4 Juan Carlos Valenzuela

Tijuana’s unassuming captain was the clear leader in a backline that allowed just 13 goals in 17 league matches.

Valenzuela rarely made mistakes and provided plenty of quiet work that was overlooked for most of the competition. The 32-year-old had an imposing presence with his clearances and was also vital with his constant commands on the pitch.

Saying that Valenzuela is still El Tri quality is perhaps undeserved, but it was baffling to see teammate Yasser Corona wear Mexico’s jersey instead of Xolos’ captain. Valenzuela is nowhere near Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio’s radar, but given another good few months, it wouldn’t be outlandish to assume he is an option for the next Gold Cup.

It will be fascinating to see if “Topo” can maintain his strong partnership with Emanuel Aguilera in the upcoming year.

#3 Federico Vilar

Believe it or not, at 39 years of age, Vilar was Tijuana’s most improved player of 2016. After an uninspired Clausura, the goalkeeper bounced back with an incredible showing in the Apertura.

The veteran, who almost retired before the last season, was an unsung hero in many of Xolos’ narrow wins and draws. When Valenzuela or Aguilera allowed the rare blunder in the backline, Vilar stepped up in nearly every match for Tijuana.

After all was said and done, the Argentine finished the competition with more saves than all but three goalkeepers in the league.

#2 Guido Rodriguez

It is perhaps unfair for Rodriguez to not be at the top spot in this list.

The 22-year-old covered more ground than any other player in the Xolos roster and was superb as the lone defensive midfielder. Without his interceptions, distributions and aggression in the midfield, Tijuana’s set-up would have collapsed.

Rodriguez was a joy to watch during the past few months and easily adapted to Liga MX’s style of play in his first season in Mexico. The youngster exuded an impressive amount of confidence in the starting XI and pushed an experienced player like Juan Carlos Medina onto the bench.

If Rodriguez can work on his dribbling or movement with the ball, he could easily become one of the best players in Mexico. Unfortunately, by the time that happens, he will probably already be with a bigger club.

#1 Dayro Moreno

Tijuana’s leading goalscorer and focal point in the attack.

Say what you will about his commitment to the team or his ego, but there was no one else in Xolos’ squad who was more impactful or influential than Moreno. With 11 goals, the Colombian finished the regular season as the joint top goalscorer in Mexico.

Despite the fact that Moreno could leave in the near future to a different club, the striker has already been able to leave his mark as one of the all-time greats within the organization. A departure for the striker appears inevitable in 2017, and when it happens, it will be troublesome to find someone else who can fill his cleats.