After struggling to find a single victory in the Estadio Caliente last season, Club Tijuana has now gone three for three with nine points gained at home in the 2016 Apertura. In fact, Xolos have yet to even allow a goal in their border town fortress during said three matches.
With a current spot at first place in the league table, Tijuana fans have plenty to celebrate about the team’s current run, but must also be cautious about the upcoming September schedule.
After facing off against Pumas this Friday, and taking part in a short FIFA international break afterwards, Miguel “Piojo” Herrera and company will return with three straight away games in seven days for the Copa MX and Apertura tournaments.
Keeping this in mind, it’s important for Herrera to bring in a victory this Friday before potentially slipping up during next month’s difficult lineup of matches.
Should Tijuana fear Pumas? It’s tough to say. For most of this young season, there hasn’t been anything that has truly stood out from the squad. During the first three games of the competition, the Mexico City club was able to sneak past opponents with just two goals scored and none allowed. Were it not for outstanding performances from goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios, the team could have easily lost all three matches. However, it must be noted that the attack has recently been firing on all cylinders. A perfect example of this was seen during Pumas’ dramatic 5-3 victory over Monterrey last weekend.
With usual starting striker Eduardo Herrera on the bench, Matias Britos took over the game and collected a hat-trick within the first 32 minutes of the match. Los Rayados, shell-shocked and desperate for a goal, fought back but eventually lost to the dominant home side. If manager Francisco Palencia once again benches Herrera and starts Britos as the focal point in the final third, Xolos should be careful against the Uruguayan who will be sprinting into this game with a massive boost in his self-esteem.
Also, although Palacios allowed three goals in his last match, it’s doubtful that he will once again allow the same to happen this Friday. With high-flying saves that have defined the recent resurgence of the veteran’s career, Palacios will be sure put on a show at the Estadio Caliente. Herrera will likely use his attack-friendly 4-3-3 formation against Pumas, but it would be wise for him to test out a couple of new names.
If Juninho is at full health and ready to play, giving the Brazilian minutes in Ignacio Malcorra’s spot in the midfield would provide another good source of smart and intelligent distribution going forward. With Guido Rodriguez taking charge as the lone defensive midfielder, the former Galaxy player should be able to roam around and help create opportunities with Gabriel Hauche.
Looking at the defense, it’s time to once again bench Damian Perez. The left-back is a quiet liability in the backline and one that could be taken advantage of by a player like Pablo Barrera. Keeping an underwhelming Perez on the bench, and bringing in a player like American Greg Garza, appears to be Herrera’s best bet for stopping a confident Barrera that has a goal and an assist in his last two games.
Despite the fact that Xolos will be hosting Friday night’s encounter, the match against the Mexico City team might prove to be one of the most difficult in the Apertura. Palacios is one of the top goalkeepers in the league and Britos emerged from his previous game against Monterrey as the most impressive Liga MX player from last weekend. These individuals, at their best, have the abilities to single-handedly carry their side to another win.
Should we already count Xolos out? Not yet. 39-year-old Federico Vilar continues to exceed expectations in net, Moreno and Hurtado have been brilliant up-top and Rodriguez is quickly emerging as a surprisingly consistent and reliable defensive midfielder. Herrera also has intriguing bench options like Paul Arriola and Hector Villalba that have the potential to be late game-changers.
Keep an eye on the upcoming duel in Tijuana, it could prove to be one of the most exciting of the weekend.
Predicted score: Xolos 2-2 Pumas