TIJUANA -The piece of land that once was a famed thoroughbred race track has become transformed. And it has nothing to do with horses.
The infield where the Agua Caliente track used to stand is now Estadio Caliente, the home of Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente -- a Mexican soccer team that, in only six years of existence, has established itself as a force with which to be reckoned.
Club Tijuana is in the 2013-2014 CONCACAF Champions League. It makes its debut in the 24-team tournament on Tuesday, when it visits El Salvador’s Luis Angel Firpo in a Group 7 match-up at the Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador.
Founded in 2007, the club has progressed with lightning speed on an historic journey for its city and its fans, both domestically and abroad.
It took Tijuana a little more than three years to achieve promotion from the Liga de Ascenso to Mexico’s top flight and only a year-and-a-half more to win a LIGA MX title. The feat happened in December, when it beat Toluca 4-1 in a two-leg final. As a result, the Xolos clinch a slot in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League and the 2013 Copa Libertadores. In the South American competition, more than 130 countries watched the Tijuana come one penalty kick away from reaching the semifinals in a loss to eventual champion Atletico Mineiro of Brazil.
Qualifying for a prominent competition and winning a domestic league title is notable, but perhaps more impressive is the impact the Xolos have made upon their city. Club Tijuana has also become a source of great pride for all of Tijuana.
The team’s colors – red and black – are prominent throughout the city. The enthusiasm has even reached across the border into nearby Mexican-American communities in southern California. Unlike most of Mexico’s other teams, Club Tijuana’s close proximity to the U.S. enables it to draw fans from two countries.
Decals sporting the team’s logo can be seen adorning the back windows on cars, trucks and SUVs throughout San Diego city streets and highways.
A large percentage of season ticket holders live the United States. It also helps that the roster contains a handful of players from the U.S. national team, including Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo and Herculez Gomez. Additionally, Club Tijuana maintains an English-language website and social media platforms.
“I think it’s a smart idea bringing in players from the U.S.,” Castillo said. “They get more playing time and now we’re doing well. The Americans have helped put the Xolos up high. Xolos are a very good club. But they’re trying to become a big club. We’re not a big club like [Club] America, like Chivas, but we’re writing our own story.”
Club Tijuana has begun to grow rapidly and the Champions League is another avenue to continue inching closer to world recognition and acceptance.