On Tuesday night in Monterrey, Mexico, and then again on April 5 at BC Place, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will face reigning Mexican Liga MX champions Tigres UANL in two of the biggest matches in club history.
In case you missed it, Tigres are good. Really good. That much we know.
But we want to know more. And we thought you might too.
With that in mind, we sought the expertise of ESPNFC Liga MX pundit Tom Marshall to dig deeper on Vancouver's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal opponent.
Your colleague Cesar Hernandez recently suggested that Tigres are becoming Mexico’s version of Real Madrid. Is that a fair assessment?
I’d have to disagree a little with my good friend Cesar! Tigres are a club with a regional fan-base that isn’t one of the biggest or more historic institutions in Mexico. It’s only really over the last few years since coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has come in that they have started making huge signings and winning consistently. They are, however, on the fast-track to joining Mexico’s “big four” – Chivas, Cruz Azul, Pumas and Club America – and arguably have the best stadium atmosphere and fans in the league. The only things that are missing are a more national fan-base and a consistent run of titles.
I would say they are Mexico’s strongest team at the moment and that Tigres’ transfer dealings have been historic, but I think Tigres have a long way to go to be called the “Mexican Real Madrid.”
Are André-Pierre Gignac and Eduardo Vargas (pictured) the best attacking partnership in CONCACAF?
You could definitely make a strong argument. They are two players that are in the player pool for a couple of the best national teams in the world. Gignac is an absolute legend for Tigres and Vargas is slowly adapting and hitting some form ahead of the game against the Whitecaps.
But it’d also be a little unfair just to mention those two. Winger Jurgen Damm is a Mexico national team regular and had opportunities to play in Europe before he signed for Tigres. Then there is Argentine forward Ismael Sosa, who was so crucial in Tigres’ title run last season and up there with the very best Liga MX players throughout 2016. Javier Aquino was another big signing for Tigres, although he is doubtful for the CCL semi first leg.
What’s behind Tigres’ struggles in league play this season?
I wouldn’t look into it too much. The team played the second leg of the Apertura final on Dec. 25 and had very little rest coming into the Clausura. I think there was some mental fatigue there in the first few rounds of matches and the structure of the Mexican league is quite forgiving in that a powerful team like Tigres can have a few bad games and still make the playoffs.
It was almost like a switch was turned on when the team confronted the CCL quarterfinal against Pumas. The institution can smell a trophy and the Club World Cup and things have clicked into gear over the last couple of weeks.
How would you describe their style of play, particularly at Estadio Universitario?
For followers of the Premier League, I’ve previously compared it a little to Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United. There are a few similarities. Ferretti’s team loves to control the game through having lots of possession, likes to recycle the ball and doesn’t take too many risks in terms of pushing players forward. The platform of the back four plus the two holding midfield players –- usually Guido Pizarro and Jesus Duenas –- gives the side solidity and order, while the talented front four are expected to create and score the goals. It usually works, although away teams at Estadio Universitario have had joy of late by sitting back, being compact and reducing the space for Tigres’ attack to operate in. It is somewhat of a worry for Tigres that the team has won just seven of its last 21 home games.
Follow Tom Marshall on Twitter for all the latest Liga MX news at @mexicoworldcup.