You know, when it comes to Mexican club football, I am a connoisseur of teams that have a strong following and are, most importantly, local. Therefore, the one club that I have been a supporter of in Liga MX since 2010 has been Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles De Caliente. Not only are based very close to the border, but they attract a very strong following in Southern California and really tug at the heart strings.
Just six years ago, Tijuana didn’t have a true football team to follow. There was the predecessors to Los Xolos: Los Gallos and Los Dorados. Enter Jorge Hank Rhon, who purchased Los Gallos in January 10, 2007 and turned the club into its current moniker, named after the Mexican Hairless Dog, the Aztec hound of legend.
The 2010-11 Ascenso MX season was the season that Club Tijuana would make the great leap forward into the Liga MX. After defeating Veracruz 3-0 in the Apertura 2010, a 2-1 home victory over Irapuato on May 21, 2011 saw Tijuana win the Ascenso MX title and promotion to the Liga MX.
But it wasn’t all easy peasy for the Aztec dogs. After a slow start to the 2011-12 season that saw Tijuana slide dangerous close to relegation in 17th place, manager Joaquin del Olmo was sacked. Enter Antonio “El Turco” Mohamed, who came to rescue Los Xolos from obscurity. After Tijuana finished 15th in the Liga MX Apertura 2011 standings, a massive turnaround came about in the Clausura 2012.
Tijuana finished the season 7-7-3 (28 points) and would end up seventh in the standings. They would lose 4-3 in a tough quarterfinal tie with Monterrey. But the stage was set for the breakthrough season that was the Apertura 2012.
Armed with potent players like Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Duvier Riascos, Cirilo Saucedo, Richard Ruiz and Fidel Martinez, Los Xolos made their move. After a 2-0 victory over Puebla to start the campaign, Tijuana would get destroyed 4-0 by Leon. That was the wake-up call Los Xolos needed, and they proceeded to go on a massive unbeaten run.
In August, Tijuana defeated Pumas UNAM 1-0, drew 2-2 with Pachuca, took out Tigres UANL 2-1, and shut out America (1-0) and Chiapas (2-0). In September, Los Xolos prevailed over Atlante 2-1, drew 1-1 with Atlas and shut out Queretaro 1-0. October was a rather quiet period, with a 1-0 clean sheet over Toluca offset by draws with Monterrey (1-1), Santos Laguna (2-2), Cruz Azul (2-2) and Morelia (1-1). Tijuana wrapped up the regular season with a scoreless draw against San Luis and a 2-0 shutout victory over Chivas de Guadalajara.
Once again, Tijuana’s quarterfinal opponent would be Monterrey. A goal by Greg Garza in the 86th minute gave Los Xolos a 1-0 first leg victory over Los Rayados. It would be more than enough, as a 1-1 draw in the second leg at the Estadio Caliente gave Tijuana a 2-1 aggregate victory. Pablo Aguilar’s 51st minute would prove to be all the difference.
Tijuana’s greatest moment of glory may, however, come from their semifinal contest with Leon, the one team Tijuana had been unable to get at least a draw against. After falling 2-0 in the first leg, Los Xolos has their backs against the wall. But in the second leg, Tijuana had their best game all Apertura, with goals from Martinez (43′), Riascos (68′) and Ruiz (90′), the latter sealing Tijuana’s ticket to the final against Toluca.
In the final, goals from Martinez (23′) and Aguilar (39′) offset a goal from the Red Devils’ Edgar Benitez to give Tijuana a 2-1 first leg victory. The second leg saw neither side give an inch in the first half, but in the second half, two goals in as many minutes sealed Toluca’s fate.
Ruiz in the 70th, followed by Riascos in the 71st. And that send the crowd at Estadio Caliente in a beer-throwing frenzy.
The victory concludes a historic Cinderella campaign by a club that is nearing its sixth birthday. A club that has bark and bite. A club that the people of this proud border town can be proud of, given the recent circumstances regarding crime and violence. A club that the people of San Diego and Southern California can be proud of. A success story that will be remembered for many, many years.
This is why I am personally proud to be a supporter of Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles De Caliente. Let us raise a glass to the Aztec Dogs, and to many more titles to come and more great stories to be told in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.