After months of thrilling and dynamic soccer in Mexico, Tijuana has nearly ruined its chances of fighting for a 2016 Apertura title. On Wednesday night’s first leg of the quarterfinal series against Leon, Xolos were absent in a 3-0 loss that has almost knocked them out of the playoffs.
Los Panzas Verdes, who hit the ground running, only needed a short amount of time to find the back of the net. Thanks to an excellent cross from Elias Hernandez, and an ensuing header from Argentine striker Mauro Boselli, Leon was able to score the first goal of the match during the 12th minute. Five minutes later, Fernando Navarro flicked in another header that secured the home side’s second goal of the evening.
Xolos were stunned.
While Leon continued to apply pressure and rack up a total of 16 shots during the first half, Tijuana struggled with a poor tally of just two in the first 45 minutes. Xolos manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera, who had rarely needed to think of a backup plan during the regular season, was forced to make changes after the whistle blew for halftime.
Instead of bringing off one of his many inconspicuous attacking players, the manager instead brought off Kevin Gutierrez during halftime and replaced him with a fellow central midfielder, Ignacio Malcorra. Herrera needed to regain possession, but took a risk by bringing in a midfielder like Malcorra who is more attack-minded than Gutierrez.
This proved to have little influence in the match, and less than 20 minutes later, Leon found a third goal through an impressive volley from German Cano. Desperate for an away goal, Herrera made two more substitutions during the 66th minute: Juninho on for Aviles Hurtado and Henry Martin on for Dayro Moreno.
Despite the fact that the changes were able to give Tijuana some more momentum, it was too little too late for the away side that took several bold shots from distance that rarely hit the target. In fact, by the time that the game was over, Xolos finished with just one shot on target after 90 minutes of playing time. One.
Whether it has more to do with Tijuana’s performance, or Leon’s immense amount of confidence in recent months, Wednesday night’s match was arguably the worst showing from Xolos in the 2016 Apertura. Goalkeeper Federico Vilar had a difficult time controlling his area, the defense was a step behind Leon’s attack, the midfield failed to halt the opposition’s possession, and the attack was nowhere to be found.
After previously faltering against America and Veracruz, the loss is now Tijuana’s third in a row. Without a single victory for Xolos since late October, November has proven to be a strenuous month for the #1 seed.
That said, after the most recent collapse, Herrera was still able to muster some confidence before Saturday’s second leg at home.
“As long as there are 90 minutes left, there is time to make a comeback,” said the manager. “If we allowed three goals, we can also score them.”
Recognizing the unpredictability of Liga MX’s playoffs, scoring three at home in Tijuana wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. Xolos have thrived in the Estadio Caliente and are more than capable of amassing a few goals in their favor. However, if Los Panzas Verdes score one or two of their own this weekend, Tijuana’s hopes for a championship would likely be coming to an early end.