Saturday night was not pretty for Club Tijuana.
After an embarrassing 4-2 defeat by Queretaro at home last week, Xolos added insult to injury with an ensuing 6-1 loss against America in the Estadio Azteca. The defeat was a humbling experience for the team that recently had a tenuous grasp on a playoff spot throughout the season.
Despite struggling at home, Xolos had one thing going their way: 12 matches without an away loss. Before the one-sided display in the Estadio Azteca, manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera was likely proud and confident with his team’s form outside of the Estadio Caliente.
Thanks to being the only Liga MX club left in the tournament without a defeat away from home, there was justifiable hope for a potential surprise result against Las Aguilas. The narrative seemed to fit the occasion as well: Xolos were looking to maintain their streak and Herrera was returning to Mexico City for the first time as a Liga MX manager since leaving his job with Club America.
After an early goal from Gabriel Hauche for Tijuana in the 13th minute, the odds of Xolos pulling off a massive upset suddenly increased. During the first 30 minutes, Tijuana looked highly organized in the defense and occasionally looked dangerous off counters. With an early lead and excellent composure from the starting XI, it appeared as though the squad’s opportunity to emerge as Liguilla candidates had arrived.
Yet, just like the loss against Queretaro, Xolos found themselves with early momentum that was eventually nowhere to be found as the game progressed.
In the defeat against Los Gallos Blancos, part of the blame could have been put on Argentine defender Javier Gandolfi. The 35-year-old committed a clumsy foul in the first half which awarded the veteran with a direct red. After going down to ten men, Tijuana struggled to maintain possession and later allowed four goals in the loss.
Tijuana appealed the suspension for Gandolfi, and after the decision was reviewed by the FMF, the Argentine was allowed to play against America for Saturday night’s game. The defender should have provided his side with a reliable presence in the center of the backline, but was unfortunately once again one of the reasons for a defeat. Gandolfi failed to stop America’s attack on numerous occasions and was directly at fault for at least one or two of the goals.
The Argentine wasn’t alone either, the entire defensive line and goalkeeper Federico Vilar all looked highly questionable in the embarrassing result against America. Vilar, Gandolfi and company gave up six goals in the loss, totaling 10 goals allowed in the last two matches.
Without a single victory at home, and two disconcerting defeats, pressure has continued to rise for Herrera as well.
Should the former Mexican national team coach be criticized for his game management? The manager might have waited too long to make substitutions in the match against Queretaro and quickly lost control of the game against America. It must also be noted that the recent loss was the first time that Herrera had given up six or more goals since 2008.
Perhaps it’s also time to give goalkeeper Gibran Lajud more minutes on the pitch. Vilar has exceeded expectations in net, but at 38 years of age, there are reasonable doubts over the near future of his career. It isn’t as if Lajud is a bad option either, the 22-year-old has been a significant influence for El Tri’s U23 squad and is one of Mexico’s brightest young talents.
All that being said, at the moment, Tijuana is out of the top eight and has a daunting game against Monterrey next Friday. Although the Liga MX is highly unpredictable, a win or even a draw for Tijuana against arguably the most talented team in the league is very unlikely.
Does this mean that there is no chance for a spot in the Liguilla for Xolos? Not exactly.
Even if Tijuana loses to Monterrey, the squad still has matches against Pumas, Puebla and Atlas to finish up the regular season. All three are winnable games for Xolos and a key opportunity to gain points and momentum before the playoffs.
Until then, the club will be looking to bounce back from one of the worst-ever defeats in the history of the team. Another tough match against Rayados awaits, but perhaps if some changes are made, Xolos might be able to sneak back into the top eight before the end of the tournament.