The New York Red Bulls are through to the quarterfinals of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League, thanks to a 3-1 aggregate win over CD Olimpia in the round of 16. Their next opponent is expected to be a tougher proposition, which is not to say that Olimpia isn’t a good team, just that conventional wisdom suggests Club Tijuana is better.
The home-and-away series starts in Tijuana on March 6. Kick-off is at 10:00 pm, Eastern.
Once A Metro checked in with FMF State of Mind’s Eugene Rupinski to get a sense of what is waiting for RBNY in Mexico.
Once A Metro: What sort of form is Tijuana in at the moment?
Eugene Rupinski: Tijuana has enjoyed a decent run of form lately, especially considering the team ended the 2017 Apertura with a record of 6 wins, 3 draws, and 8 losses - 11th place overall and out of the Liguilla (playoffs). Under new manager Diego Cocca, Tijuana has 4 wins, 4 draws, and only 2 losses in Liga MX play in the Clausura and is currently sixth in the table.
OaM: Do Xolos have a distinct style of play? What should we expect to see from them in the first leg?
ER: Tijuana isn’t necessarily a defense-first team, but they’ve been impressive defensively this season. They set a Liga MX record for shutout minutes to start a season, not conceding a goal until the 67th minute of their match against Querétaro in Week Six. In their ten Liga MX matches they’ve only let in six goals, earning goalkeeper Gibran Lajud his first call up to the Mexican National Team.
Again though they’re not a defense only team that looks to bunker and eke out 1-0 wins. They’ve had a 4-1 win over Pumas in Week Eight and a 3-1 win over Lobos BUAP this past Friday, so the offensive capabilities are there.
OaM: Who should we be excited/worried about on the Tijuana side of the ball?
ER: Tijuana has multiple scoring threats and has been rotating players regularly between Liga MX and CONCACAF Champions League play, so match fatigue should not be an issue. Striker Gustavo “Pantera” Bou has been out injured, and has been replaced by José Alberto “Beto” García for most matches, although Juan Lucero has picked up the slack. They’re usually paired up top with former Chivas USA forward Miller Bolaños, who has revitalized his career in Tijuana as a false nine.
The attacking midfield is full of options, with Mateus Gonçalves on the left and either Ignacio “Nacho” Malcorra or Luis “Quick” Mendoza on the right providing attacking support to Beto and Bolaños. Malcorra can play either right or left wing, allowing Cocca greater flexibility in his lineups.
Projected lineup: Gibran Lajud; Damián Pérez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Pablo Aguilar, Omar Mendoza; Damián Musto; Ignacio Malcorra, Ignacio Rivero, Luis Mendoza; Miller Bolaños, José Alberto García
Many thanks to Eugene for his thoughts. Follow him on Twitter: @GolazodelGringo. And check out FMF State of Mind for more information about Tijuana and the rest of Liga MX.