Tigres finding consistency during title defense

After an up-and-down start to the Clausura, Tigres are finding their stride as they look to defend their Liga MX title, writes Jon Arnold.

At their best, there might be no team in the Americas better than Tigres. The catch is that Tigres don't always play at their best.

Exhibit A is this weekend, when the team lulled through the first half of a visit from Club America. The capital team struck first, with Jesus Moreno scoring in the 69th minute. Two minutes later, Tigres had equalized. When the whistle sounded, they had polished off a 4-1 triumph over America.

For most of the match, Tigres were going through the motions. But it took just 20 minutes of Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's men playing their best soccer to come away with a convincing victory over one of the teams most likely to stop them from successfully defending their Apertura title.

America could have been fatigued from CONCACAF Champions League travel. Tigres stayed home for their CCL quarterfinal first leg while America had to travel to Seattle. They had center back Pablo Aguilar sent off after the first goal and finished the match with nine men. Ultimately, though, it was Tigres failing to fire on all cylinders before switching into gear.

It's Tigres third-straight match undefeated across all competitions, and a sign the team is starting to find some consistency. The club had an up-and-down start to the Clausura with its defeats and even its draws this season going down as embarrassing missteps.

You'd never expect a team to get through the Liga MX season unscathed. The losses, though, came at home to Tijuana, a team that sits eighth in the table and has only that win away from home and to a Toluca side that has yet to win another match this tournament. The draws against Queretaro and Chivas saw Tigres start slow, then make a concerted push to get back level.

Why are Tigres only now finding consistency? For one, goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman has been much more error-prone after the break than he was in the playoffs. The Argentine goalkeeper was one of the stars of the championship-winning team, helping Tigres win a shootout in the final against Pumas. He's called on to come out for balls that go over Tigres high line but not into his box, and he's made a few mistakes. Those have been minimized as of late as he returns to the form that has him as the potential Argentina No. 1.

Another factor is that he team is starting very slowly in matches. Sometimes Tigres haven't been able to overcome the slow starts. Part of that is the style Ferretti plays with Tigres, one focused on keeping possession and playing excellent defense when possession is lost. The counterattacks are fearsome, but Tigres don't always spring the counter. They're patient when they have the ball, working to free the wingers to set up the scoring chances.

One constant that has carried over from the Apertura is the quality of French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac. After finishing with the most goals of any player when the regular season and Liguilla were combined, Gignac already has jumped out to the top of the goal-scoring table with eight goals in as many matches.

Gignac has set the standard for the team, and Tigres look set to follow his consistent example. He's starting to get scoring help from Damien Alvarez and wingers Javier Aquino and Jurgen Damm. If they can keep on the path, a double of the CONCACAF Champions League and another Liga MX title is well within their reach.