Club Tijuana's Paul Arriola (pictured) played in the LA Galaxy's youth system. (Photo: Mexsport)
LOS ANGELES -- For three members of Club Tijuana, their upcoming quarterfinal series in the CONCACAF Champions League carries tremendous personal significance.
Herculez Gomez and Paul Arriola once played for the Xolos’ opponent, the LA Galaxy. Joe Corona was born in Los Angeles before moving to Tijuana as a boy.
The Galaxy will host the first leg at the StubHub Center on March 12 before the action shifts to Estadio Caliente on March 18.
"It's a very exciting thing for me," Corona said. "I still have a lot of family in Los Angeles. I even have some cousins who grew up rooting for the LA Galaxy. They're excited about the game."
Arriola, who will turn 19 on February 5, played in the Galaxy's youth system prior to inking a contract with Liga MX side in July.
"The matchup couldn't be any better or at any better time," commented Arriola, who has been playing with Liga Ascenso side Dorados de Sinaloa in Copa MX games. "I'm excited to play against, I guess you could say, my ex-team."
Gomez used his first full season in Major League Soccer to help the Galaxy win the 2005 MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup. He scored 11 goals in league play and was named the team's most valuable player.
"The Galaxy is very near and dear to my heart," expressed Gomez. "They gave me a huge opportunity. Just playing them feels like things are coming around full circle."
Though Tijuana is appearing in its first CCL, it gained valuable experience playing in last year's Copa Libertadores, reaching the quarterfinals before falling to the eventual champion, Brazil's Atletico Mineiro.
"You go down to Brazil and Argentina, where all they do is breathe soccer, and it's just amazing how their fans in the whole stadium are jumping and singing the whole game," Corona said. "As a player, that motivates you a lot."
That experience provides unique training for the CCL.
"It's not a 90-minute game,." Gomez said. "It's a 180-minute game. I've seen road goals deflate a team. All of a sudden, they're not used to this moment and they don't know how to react."
Defeating Los Angeles would put Tijuana one step closer to a possible berth in the Club World Cup. Personal links to the past cannot compete.
"I love the time I spent in L.A.," Gomez finished. "I still have friends on the Galaxy, but I'm part of Xolos."