CARSON, Calif.--The notion that SuperLiga is a second-tier competition got further ammunition on Saturday night when a group of UANL Tigres youngsters beat Chivas USA. Fielding a starting eleven that featured only one player over the age of 21, Tigres came out of the Home Depot Center with a 2-1 win.
The first team of Tigres, along with head coach Daniel Guzman, remained in Mexico to play a friendly versus Universidad de Guadalajara, a second division club in Mexico. Coach Carlos Turrubiates explained the weakened lineup, “This tournament comes in our preseason. The [head] coach decided it was not convenient to interrupt the team's preparation at this point. That's why we took the opportunity to send a young team here. I think these 90 minutes are worth five or six games for players at this age level.”
Major League Soccer side Chivas USA, however, fielded nearly a full-strength lineup. Head coach Preki was missing only Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan (to international duty), and chose to rest Shavar Thomas and Atiba Harris. Mexican legend Claudio Suarez came into the backline for his first start of the season.
In the eighth minute, Suarez's insertion into the lineup nearly paid immediate dividends. The 40-year-old headed a corner towards goal, but teammate Mariano Trujillo blocked the ball's path into the net.
Two minutes later, Tigres was sensationally ahead. Israel Jimenez, the lone Tigres player over 21, made an overlapping run from his rightback position. He floated a cross into the box which was headed on by Americo Rodriguez. With his back to goal, Amado Pulido hit an acrobatic overhead kick which looped over the despairing goalkeeper, Zach Thornton, and into the net. The Tigres youngsters celebrated wildly.
From then on, Tigres sat back with 10 players behind the ball, breaking out on swift counterattacks. It meant that Chivas enjoyed the majority of possession, but also that a lumbering defense was tested for pace frequently.
Midway through the half, Chivas pieced together a gorgeous flowing move. Bojan Stepanovic cut back to Paulo Nagamura atop the box, and the Brazilian hid his intentions before threading a ball across the Tigres defense and onto the diagonal run made by Eduardo Lillingston. The Mexican striker dinked the ball across the goal, but Maykel Galindo hit his point-blank shot off the 'keeper.
Soon after, another excellent Jimenez cross found Rodriguez unmarked in the box, but the forward skied his volley.
Close to halftime, Chivas USA had the ball into the back of the net. However, the referee decided that the ball went out of play before Trujillo hooked it back to Lillingston to poke home.
Preki decided to go with more youth of his own to begin the second half, throwing on youngsters Jorge Flores and Michael Lahoud for veterans Jesse Marsch and Sasha Victorine. The substitutions injected a bit of pace and life into what had been a rather stale performance from the Goats.
Two chances created by Trujillo were spurned in the early minutes of the half. First, a free kick from the Mexican fullback was headed on frame by Carey Talley, but called back for offsides. Then, Trujillo hit a cross which Lillingston headed back to Nagamura. The Brazilian snatched his shot wide with the goal gaping.
After much pressure, Chivas found the breakthrough in the 55th minute. Flores clicked a backheel pass through two defenders to find Lillingston, who laid off to Stepanovic. The Serb shanked his shot wide, but it fell kindly to Lahoud. The rookie slammed his shot off the goalkeeper's fingertips and the post before the ball finally nestled in the net for Lahoud's first professional goal.
However, Lillingston undid all the positive work he had done all night by getting sent off in the 67th minute. He was caught tugging on a jersey to elicit his second yellow of the match.
The ejection gave Tigres the shift in momentum it needed. A quarter of an hour left in the match, Jesus Duenas blasted a freekick around the wall and into Thornton. The 35-year-old spilled the shot, and Bernardo Cabrera poked home. However, even as the elated Tigres youngsters peeled off to the corner to celebrate, the referee called the play back for offsides.
With eight minutes remaining, the breakthrough finally came for Tigres. Trujillo was caught trying to play the ball out of the back by Armando Pulido. He passed to Alan Pulido, who shimmied past the sliding Claudio Suarez and uncorked a shot at goal. Again Thornton spilled it, and Duenas coolly slotted behind the 'keeper for the go-ahead goal.
Late in the match, two Lahoud crosses behind the Tigres backline caused havoc, but weren't turned into the net. The match ended 2-1 in a morale-boosting encounter for the Tigres youngsters.
Even Tigres coach Turrubiates admitted in the post-game press conference that he didn't expect to win. “I won't lie to you, I didn't expect this result. But yes, I do expect this kind of attitude and approach out of my players.”
Chivas head coach Preki maintained that he still thought Chivas had a shot at advancing to the semifinals of the competition, but admitted that he too would be looking to inject some youth into the lineups in coming days.
“You want to win every time you step on the field, and in the meantime you’ve got to give an opportunity to some of the younger guys,” he explained. “Some of our younger guys in the second half came in, [Michael] Lahoud and Jorge Flores, and they gave us some energy, so we are looking forward to getting some more of that. We are going to try and win the next game, that’s all we’re thinking right now.”
Zac Lee Rigg, Goal.com
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