Five things from Clausura first-leg semis as Tigres win, Toluca hold Chivas
MEXICO CITY -- In the first leg of the Liguilla semifinals, Chivas picked up a 1-1 draw against Toluca and Tigres easily defeated Club Tijuana 2-0. Here are five things from Thursday's action.
1. Uribe keeps Toluca alive
Heading into their semifinal series, Chivas and Toluca had both suffered drops in form. Before the first leg at Estadio Nemesio Diez, the clubs had only won one of their past seven matches, which suggested that the series would be a close one.
As has been the case throughout the regular season, Toluca looked vulnerable at home. Chivas had several chances in the first half that could have put them in the lead, but their finishing wasn't sharp.
They eventually broke the deadlock through Rodolfo Pizarro in the 83rd minute but, two minutes later, striker Fernando Uribe struck a header past goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota. Uribe's seventh goal of the season lifted the spirits at La Bombonera and, with six of his seven goals coming off headers, the Colombian has shown that he is a key target on set pieces.
The draw keeps Toluca alive and the club will have high hopes of reaching the final as, alongside Club Tijuana, they were one of the best visiting sides in the league.
2. Pizarro steps up when it matters
When Pizarro was one of Pachuca's "three musketeers" alongside Hirving "Chucky" Lozano and Erick Gutierrez, it seemed he would move abroad after winning the 2016 Clausura. However, he took another route and signed for one of Mexico's most revered clubs: Chivas.
Although at first his decision to stay in Liga MX, instead of heading to Europe, raised some eyebrows, his performances in this Liguilla prove that he made the right move.
In the 62 minutes he has participated thus far, Pizarro already scored a goal and his desire to lead Chivas to the final is noticeable and contagious. If he manages to help Chivas to their 12th league title, there may well be more interest from Europe.
3. Tigres' Liguilla swagger has been remarkable
Tigres have scored 16 goals in their past five wins, but what should also be highlighted is how they have done so. Their dominant performances in this Liguilla have been mesmerizing because, even though Andre-Pierre Gignac has picked up four goals in three games, the team has seen other players like Jesus Duenas, Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez, Lucas Zelarayan and Javier Aquino also putting in brilliant displays.
Tigres' team effort and efficiency are what separate them from the other semifinalists. Their 2-0 win over Club Tijuana could have been by a bigger margin, but they changed tactics to prevent Xolos from scoring an away goal.
4. Xolos' semifinal comeback looks unreachable
Times are difficult for Xolos, who saw their defensive leader Juan Carlos Valenzuela leave the field with a serious muscular injury. Against Tigres, the team did as much as they could to fill the void he left, but it may not help them in the second leg.
Tijuana will arrive without any of its experienced defenders because they're all out injured -- Yasser Corona, Emanuel Aguilera, Michael Orozco and now Valenzuela. If Tigres score one goal at Estadio Caliente, the series is over.
5. Hurtado and Pulido's scoring droughts
While Aviles Hurtado is in a six-game scoring drought, Alan Pulido has gone one game further. Both players are their respective teams' main scoring threats and when they are sharp in front of goal, Xolos and Chivas are difficult to beat. Even though Tijuana and Chivas are in the semis, both are currently lacking the firepower that their star men can offer.
Luckily for Chivas, players like Pizarro and Orbelin Pineda have made Pulido's scoring drought less painful. But over at Tijuana, it's noticeable that if Hurtado is not at his finest, the team suffers. During Hurtado's drought, Xolos have lost three of their matches (two of those against Tigres).
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.