Through their first 6 games of the Guard1anes 2021 season, Tijuana had only conceded 4 goals; that accounted for a top-5 defense in the league. More importantly, they managed to obtain a clean sheet against both Pumas and León in their respective matchups, something that isn’t easy to do and not many have done over the past 6-7 months. On top of that, they were one of only two remaining undefeated teams in the season (Santos). In short, Xolos came out of the gate with a clear defensive priority mindset that had undoubtedly worked, until their Round 7 match of course.
Tijuana travelled to San Nicolás de los Garza to take on a Tigres team who were coming off a home loss to Cruz Azul following their successful 2nd place result in the FIFA Club World Cup a couple weeks back. Tigres came out on a mission, and that mission proved too much for Tijuana’s supposedly “top” defense, with Quiñones scoring the game’s first goal after 124 seconds of play. Ten minutes later, Nico López showed up yet again for Tigres, scoring on a beautiful left-footed crossed shot, way out of Orozco’s reach. After participating in creating various other dangerous opportunities in the first half which weren’t taken advantage of, he put his name on the scoresheet for a second time, seven minutes into the second half, off a deflected shot by Gignac, which put the game out of reach. In the end, Tigres secured their third win of the season by a final of 3-2.
But let’s take a closer look at López. Tuca Ferretti played him in 9 league games last season; he scored in 5 of them and had an assist in 2 others. So, he didn’t have any goal participation in just 2 games. For some reason, Ferretti didn’t play him in the wild-card round against Toluca, then got just 27 minutes in the first leg against Cruz Azul, and played a single half in the second leg. It doesn’t make sense for a player who responded so well during the regular season.
To make matters worse, he was completely scratched from the lineup for Tigres’ first two games of the current season. In Rounds 3 and 4, he didn’t dress either, due to COVID. To top things off, he was excluded from the Club WC roster again due to his positive COVID testing, despite some people such as his ex-teammate Eduardo Vargas not buying that version of the story. Upon the club’s return to Mexico, he was subbed in at the half in last week’s meeting against Cruz Azul with his team down 0-1. And then there’s Sunday, where he finally got his first real shot since the América 1-3 loss back in the beginning of November. He played 82 minutes against Xolos and scored two goals.
Say what you want about ‘El Diente’, but he has responded in nearly every game where he’s been given a real chance to participate. Whether Tuca likes his style of play or thinks he puts in enough effort is another story entirely, but the fact of the matter is López has responded when called upon and has earned a spot in the starting lineup, or as a regular role player in the very least, which Ferretti has been unwilling to concede to him for some reason. Unlike either of the Quiñones and even Aquino, he has managed to make a difference nearly every time he’s on the pitch. He’s without a doubt one of those players that can change a game in an instant and has proven so. He’s has that ‘punch’ Tigres lacked in the Cruz Azul QF series last season or even against a Bayern Munich where they looked so flat up top. His mere presence could’ve changed the outcome of those results.
Even though the addition of Carlos González has given this club another dimension offensively speaking, Nico López has proven with goals he can make a difference. We’ll see if Tuca recognizes this going forward and gives this club a legitimate shot at their 8th title by including one of their top difference makers in the lineup.