Cruz Azul v. Xolos: Breaking Down the CCL Semifinal

One half of the Concacaf Champions League final is now complete. Toluca defeated Alajuelense in the two-legged semifinal match-up by a 3-0 aggregate. The Liga MX club now awaits their Mexican rival to decide which team will win the title and have the chance to represent Concacaf in the Club World Cup. Whom exactly that will be will be determined on Wednesday night in Estadio Azul.

The Xolos of Tijuana visit Mexico City for the second leg of the semifinals. The first leg in Tijuana was a tight affair that came down to a controversial call. Xolos took the win 1-0 with the only goal coming from the penalty spot (on a suspect call) . Cristian Pellerano was able to give Tijuana the win while the defense was able to keep Cruz Azul scoreless. With just a one goal differential, advancement to the final is truly up in the air.

Tijuana carries the one goal advantage and the fact that all draws go their way due to Cruz Azul not scoring an away goal. Cruz Azul carries the advantage that the Xolos won't be playing at the Estadio Caliente, the only place they seem to get positive results.

To break down this intriguing match-up, I asked a regular at Estadio Caliente, Kim Tate, to provide some perspective on the Xolos side while handling the Cruz Azul side myself

Best possible lineup for Cruz Azul:

Jason Marquitz:

Luckily for Cruz Azul, Luis Fernando Tena can now put out a lineup that resembles something close to their best, The last few CCL lineups were a little Cruz Azul Hidalgo heavy. With injuries, cup-tied players, yellow card suspensions and national team duties intervening, the roster has been a little lean in some positions.

Expect Cruz Azul's starting eleven to look something like this:


Jesus Corona


Rogelio Chavez

Luis Amaranto Perea

Julio 'Cata' Dominguez

Sergio Napoles


Gerardo Torrado

Alejandro Castro

Marco Fabian

Mauro Formica

Joao Rojas


Ismael Valadez

There's some doubt in a few positions. Fausto Pinto, the regular LB, is cup-tied to Toluca and will be unable to participate. Sergio Napoles is the likely replacement. Chaco Giminez and Mariano Pavone are both out with injuries. While the midfield has plenty of options to account for Chaco's absence, the forward position is in doubt without Pavone. Ismael Valadez was brought in when Pavone was injured during the match with Club America. Valadez played pretty well and likely justified more playing time.

Best Possible lineup for Tijuana:

Kim Tate:


Cirilo Saucedo


Javier Gandolfi

Elio Castro

Edgar Castillo

Juan Carlos Nunez


Hernan Pellerano

Fernando Arce

Joe Corona

Javier Guemez


Dario Benedetto

Fidel Martinez

This lineup could go a few different ways now that Cristian Pellerano is ruled out with an injury. The Xolos’ defensive midfielder plays a key role in the back and through the attack, and is also their leading goal scorer, so Cesar Farias will need extra strength in back and also in attack mode. I'm guessing that brother Hernan Pellerano will step up and play the DM role. Also, I’m torn between Edgar Castillo and Greg Garza at left back. While Garza is more of a defender, he’s also fast and physical, which would work to Tijuana’s advantage, especially without Pellerano in the mix. Castillo is quick and speedy down the wing, and will undoubtedly run into tight spaces and deliver. Expect one to be on the bench and come in as a sub.  

If we’re talking “ideal” vs. “likely,” I’m throwing Herculez Gomez up top with Martinez at some point, and Benedetto behind them, with Arce and Guemez dropping back when necessary. If we’re going “likely,” then Gomez, who hasn’t started a game in weeks, will come on a sub late into the second half. While Tijuana is automatically through to the final with either a draw or a minimum one-goal lead (1-0, 1-1, 2-1, etc), their road form is anything but spectacular and they’re known for giving up goals, so defensively they’ll need extra strength and as much scoring power as possible in case they’re desperate for an away goal. Throwing in Richard Ruiz couldn’t hurt.

Tijuana’s weakest points:

KT: Defensively, Xolos give up goals easily on the road. They cannot afford to make this a thing in this match if they want to advance. They’ll be dependent upon Gandolfi, Pellerano, and whomever assumes the defensive midfield position in place of Cristian Pellerano to keep possession and prevent sloppiness and mistakes in the back which has plagued them on the road since January of 2013.

CA weakest points:

JM: Cruz Azul continues to plow forward with its dangerous midfield. This has led to the huge scoring output and great success this season. Yet, possession and control in the midfield often get lost. Cruz Azul is dependent upon a solid game from Alejandro Castro and Gerardo Torrado. I'm not sure what you know about these two players, but I will just say that as a Cruz Azul fan it pained me to type the last sentence. Castro is wildly inconsistent. He could be a world beater in midfield, but he could also be more akin to an egg beater - just out there flapping around. Gerardo Torrado is Gerardo Torrado. Without solid games from these two, Cruz Azul could be in trouble.

The LB position is a bit tenuous in that the drop from Pinto to Napoles in defensive ability is stark. Napoles isn't really a true defender. The question mark at the forward position isn't exactly helping either.

TJ strongest attributes:

KT: Tijuana showed incredible domination over second placed Toluca last week at Estadio Caliente with a solid midfield performance and finishing from Benedetto. More of that, and lots of it, will do the job for Xolos if defense can keep it together and hold off Fabian, Formica, and Rojas. They really need to abandon any “play it safe and defend” mentality (assuming that’s what they’re going with) and utilize every ounce of speed and hunger in Martinez, and Benedetto. Javier Guemez is coming into form as each game progresses and he can be a loose cannon for defenders on the wing. Benedetto has been spectacular in recent weeks. Also worth mentioning is Joe Corona, who is quick, agile, fast, and creative wherever he goes on pitch.

CA strongest attributes:

JM: The pace, creativity, and determination of the Cruz Azul attacking midfield stand out. The dynamic three of Fabian, Formica, and Rojas create problems for every opponent they face. They can be wasteful with the ball at times (I'm looking at you, Joao), but they also create a high volume of chances. Expect something special from this trio.

The backline is solid and has a great ability to contribute in moving the ball forward. Every defender on the squad does a reasonably good job of moving forward and delivering the long ball - what this team tends to thrive on.

If Cruz Azul prevails, it will be because ...

JM: They capitalized on their scoring chances. Cruz Azul will have them, but they will need to convert. This seems obvious (because it is), but it comes back to the fact that Cruz Azul need the win to advance. In the best case scenario for the visitors, Tijuana nets two goals. Cruz Azul should have enough chances to get the win. They just need to punch them in (while overcoming the dreaded 'away goals'.

Also, they will need to have less phantom penalties awarded to Tijuana. Yes, I'm still bitter.

If Tijuana prevails, it will be because ...

KT: They did their part to prevent Cruz Azul from taking any kind of substantial lead, which translates to keeping the midfield tight and covering a lot of space in the back.  They have to prevent Fabian, Rojas, and Formica from terrorizing the midfield and wings. And, they should probably try to nab an insurance goal (or two!) somewhere in the space of 90 minutes.   

** the photo is used under a creative commons license from Juan Castillo



The championship league was quite exciting and epic. The league should be organized in such a way that the teams are given the opportunity to exhibit professionalism in the game. We have to remember that most of these players are looking at furthering their career abroad and how the game is organized played a part in the success of their soccer career.