Like many American soccer fans over the last couple seasons, Club Tijuana has slowly become my favorite Liga MX side, especially living in Southern California and having games on TV at reasonable times (Friday at 7:30 PM) instead of setting an alarm for 4 AM in order to watch an English Premier League match.
It also doesn’t hurt when the team boasts Americans Joe Corona, Greg Garza, Paul Arriola, a treasure trove of US U-20 players and have featured other Americans in the past (Edgar Castillo and Herculez Gomez).
With the weekend free, I decided to finally make the three hour trek south to Tijuana to check out the Xolos experience in person in their Friday game against Pumas.
After fighting through the “fun” traffic of I-5 on a Friday, I finally made it to Mexico and met up with Jon Arnold, who was my guide for the weekend. We made the walk up to the stadium, Estadio Caliente, and there was already a buzz around the stadium two hours or so before the game. I am always impressed with soccer fans and how they have the newest jersey for their team. Most of the fans were decked out in the new Adidas jersey for this season even though it was only released a month ago.
As we made the walk up to the stadium, you can see this mixture of old and new. The stadium was built in only 2007 but it was mainly built of this rock/concrete which makes it seem like an old ruin. The walkway to the stadium had new billboards featuring various players and a fountain on what looked like the mini-field from the Fox Sports studio.
You could tell that the stadium is still a work in progress. There were still large pieces of metal structure sitting to the side as they finish the side of the stadium which features the press box and suites. When the stadium was built in 2007, the original capacity was 13,333. A year later it increased to 21,000 as Liga MX teams need a stadium with a minimum capacity of 15,000. Wikipedia claims the current capacity is 25,333 with plans to increase it to 33,333. The announced attendance for Friday’s game was a “record” of 27,333. I was told 333 is the Mexican equivalent of the US’s 777 and this makes sense with the team being owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, whose Grupo Caliente owns casinos and a greyhound racetrack (which is next to the stadium).
As you walk into the stadium, you are greeted by attractive women promoting various sponsors and a line of men of waiting to get their photo taken with them. It reminded me a lot of going to Lakers games and seeing the Laker girls standing out in the concourse before the game.
We arrived pretty early but missed the end of the U-20 game, which did feature a goal by Paul Arriola. In a move that makes total sense, the U-17 and U-20 teams travel with the senior team and play the opponent’s U-17 and U-20 teams on the same day in order to knock everything out at the same time.
Since we had some time to kill, we had to knock out two things I had been waiting for: some tacos and a photo of the gigantic inflatable Tecate can. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I always make a reference to that large can anytime I am watching Tijuana play. It didn’t disappoint.
We finally made our way up to the seats in the press box and got ready for the game. The stadium was giving me vibes of FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium with how it is built downwards. The stand opposite of the press box and along the end line to the right were only one tier, while the section to the left had been expanded with a second tier. The few Pumas fans who made the game had seats in the top right of the second tier along that end line to the left.
After some warm-ups, the players entered the field from an inflatable dog. The players lined up for a pre-game photo, someone brought out a ball and they got right with it. There was no national anthem, no sponsored event nor any season ticket member thing, they came out and played.
The game was a fun one. It was very open with both teams getting some decent chances early. Tijuana entered the game with a league-leading 10 goals and they added three to that tally on Friday. Gabriel Hauche, who was one of the better players on the night, got things going when he set up Alfredo Moreno for the first goal. Three minutes later, Juan Arango scored from a long free kick in what was one of the better goals that I have ever seen live in person (0:40 mark in the video below). And Arango made it 3-0 in the second half while scoring from the penalty spot.
As for the Americans, Greg Garza got the start at left back while Joe Corona and Alejandro Guido made the bench. Corona came into the game as a second half sub while Guido did not make an appearance in the game. Garza played well on the left side, making some attacking runs and even showed some fancy footwork while pulling off something that looked like a Cruyff turn at one point.
One of the other highlights from the game was the halftime entertainment. There was first a dance team doing some performance before they put up some bouncy castle/climbing wall up at midfield. I have no clue what was going on, but guys ran up to the climbing thing and attempted to climb it, but it didn’t seem properly inflated and nearly tipped over at one point. At some point, someone finally made it to the top so they could advance to the next part which involved dodging guys in giant sumo suits like they were American Gladiators while hurdling signs before reaching the end where they took a penalty kick on a goalkeeper. During most of these type of events from my experience, the goalkeepers always lets the people taking the kick to score, but this goalkeeper wanted none of that and saved a bunch of the attempts. Like I said, I had no clue what was going on, who won or anything, but it was fun.
Following the final whistle, the players went to midfield to celebrate with each other and salute the fans before slowing walking off the pitch. We then made our way down to the mixed zone. Most of the Pumas players slinked by saddened by the 3-0 loss before the Tijuana players slowly made their way out.
Most of the media wanted to talk to Hauche, Arango and goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo, but Guido made a quick appearance and Garza came out for a bit as he talked about his Cruyff-like turn (something he used to do as a little kid and thought he would just try it out) and the USMNT.
Overall, it was a good time. I keep coming back to the word fun. It was a fun game. It was a fun atmosphere. It was a fun experience. If you live in Southern California and have a chance to go to a Xolos game, I would recommend it. I also got to experience Tijuana for the first time in my life. I had some of the best street tacos of my life at Taqueria Franc and highly enjoyed a torta with chilaquiles from a food truck (which is especially delicious at 3 AM when you have had a few beers).
I posted or linked most of the photos I took with my phone, but here is a slideshow of everything including a couple I didn’t post above.