Tijuana’s Clausura kicks off tonight against Monarcas Morelia, making it a perfect time to look at the team before Los Xolos go into action.
Key additions for Xolos:
Luis Michel - Tijuana turning the reins over to 23 year old Gibran Lajud may seem a bit scary, however having Michel as his backup and mentor should calm some of the fears. Michel brings with him a wealth of experience, backstopping Chivas for nearly a decade and playing internationally for El Tri as well.
Joe Corona - It's funny to think that a 26 year old from Los Angeles would be considered a club legend for a Liga MX team. That being said, for a club celebrating a decade of existence you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more synonymous with Xolos. Corona perfectly embodies Xolos’ desire to be a club that is bigger than the border - un club sin fronteras. His return from loan should help Xolos generate more offense down the stretch - where they faltered in the Apertura.
Juan Martín Lucero - The Argentine forward is an unknown quantity for Xolos, having played the past year in Malaysia with Johor Darul Ta’zim. Lucero did play for Argentina’s Defensa y Justicia and Independiente, so he does have experience playing at a very high level.
Key departures for Xolos:
Gabriel Hauche - The Argentine second striker was sent on loan to Toluca. His four goals and six assists in the Apertura will need to be replaced if Xolos are to return to the Liguilla.
Greg Garza - The left back was sent to MLS debutantes Atlanta United on loan with an option to buy. While he had been injured lately, it was hoped he had returned to full fitness. To follow his progress in MLS, check out our sister blog Dirty South Soccer.
Juninho - The Brazilian midfielders as sent to the Chicago Fire of MLS on loan with an option to buy. While he had good moments with Tijuana, he will most likely be remembered by Xolos’ fans for picking up a red card in the first Liguilla match against León. You can follow his progress in MLS by checking out our friends at Hot Time In Old Town.
Tijuana still has some significant concerns going into the Clausura. The defense that started the Apertura strong finished very weakly, allowing five goals in the two leg series against León with Federico Vilar playing like a man trying to go out on top. It will be critical that someone on the back line step up and lead, helping lighten Gibran Lajud’s workload as much as possible. The pieces are there in players such as Juan Carlos Núñez, Damián Pérez, Michael Orozco, and Emanuel Aguilera. If they can coalesce into the unit they were at the start of the Apertura, Tijuana will be able to be competitive throughout the season.
The midfield was bolstered by the return of Corona, but losing Hauche will hurt. This is not the same team Corona left in 2015, and he will need to work to understand where he fits into Miguel Herrera’s offense. Victor Malcorra and Avilés Hurtado were dynamic in the Apertura, and they should mesh well with Corona.
Corona’s arrival also could allow Dayro Moreno to switch from right wing to forward, where he looked his most dangerous. Milton Caraglio’s underwhelming Apertura (three goals and six assists as a center forward) should allow for Lucero to get a shot at a starting role.
Miguel Herrera has built a good squad, and the past Apertura proved that the team can win - but also has some significant issues that they attempted to address during the winter offseason. Now comes the trial by fire - a start against lowly Morelia should help build confidence before away games at Chivas, León, Pumas, and Tigres late in the season. The club will play Puebla, Querétaro, América, and Toluca at Estadio Caliente, which should help provide a good advantage for Xolos.