Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente has already had a magical run in their brief history as a First Division Mexican soccer team.
Just one year after winning promotion to Liga MX, the Xolos won the league championship in 2012. It was the first top-level soccer championship for a team from Baja California.
Despite missing the Liga MX playoffs this season, the Xolos are still alive in their quest for more glory. They have advanced to the quarterfinals of Copa Libertadores, the prestigious South American club championship. Top Mexican teams have been invited to compete in the Copa since 1998 but have never won the tournament.
The Xolos host Atlético Mineiro, featuring Brazilian star Ronaldinho, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday night. The match can be seen on Fox Deportes in the United States.
The quarterfinal matchup at Tijuana’s Estadio Caliente is the first of a two-leg fixture to determine who moves on in the tournament. The Xolos will travel to Brazil for the second leg at Atlético’s home stadium in Belo Horizonte on May 31.
Last week, Tijuana became just the third Mexican club team to win in Brazil in the Copa Libertadores with a stunning victory over traditional Brazilian powerhouse Palmeiras in Sao Paulo. After holding on for a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Estadio Caliente, the Xolos dispatched Palmeiras from the tournament with a 2-1 win.
Tijuana benefited from some good fortune in Sao Paulo when the Palmeiras goalkeeper spilled a weak effort off the foot of Duvier Riascos for a howler of a goal. The early away goal was huge after the scoreless first leg, as Copa Libertadores uses the away-goals rule to break ties. The Xolos added a legit goal in the second half when Fernando Arce blasted a one-timer off a poor clearance for a 2-0 lead.
Tijuana conceded a penalty kick after a handball in the box, then held on with 10 men and some cynical time-wasting tactics for the historic 2-1 win in South America.
The Xolos might play it conservatively again tonight in hopes of again holding the visiting Brazilians without a crucial away goal.
The soccer excitement from our neighboring border city comes amid a few shakeups in Mexican soccer. After the historic win in Sao Paulo, Xolos coach Antonio Mohamed announced that he was leaving the team after the tournament. Much of Tijuana’s success has been attributed to their Argentinian leader, so they will head into an uncertain future after the Copa.
The news was much worse for supporters of three other Mexican teams. At the Liga MX league meetings, deals were finalized to sell and likely relocate Jaguares of Chipas, Michoacán’s La Piedad and San Luis F.C. of San Luis Potosí.
San Diego, of course, has been without a major pro soccer team since 1992. Despite Mayor Bob Filner’s bi-national Olympics politicking, the announcement of a second MLS team for New York and rumors that Los Angeles’ second MLS club, Chivas USA, may be sold, there appears to be little movement toward bringing top-level soccer back to town.