The anticipation is building in Tijuana. The fans at Caliente Stadium are not only hyped but ready to witness a moment long in the making.
“This is the first time in history that we have a major league team fighting for a championship game,” said Ramon Ramos, a San Ysidro resident.
It’s a sense of pride and of accomplishment.
“It’s almost like saying the San Diego chargers never had a football team, [then] they get a football team and they go to the Super Bowl …what would you feel like?” explained Johnny Rivera, another San Ysidro resident.
But for Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente it’s more than a game, it’s a movement.
Xoloitzcuintles, or Xolos for short, (pronounced “Cholos”) is the name of an ancient Aztec dog paraded around at games, otherwise known as the Mexican hairless dog. The mascot is seen on everything, from t-shirts to stickers.
“This is something that maybe was unprecedented,” said Ivan Orozco, English Communications spokesman for Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente. “But we’re here and our team is ready to do the best they can to win.”
In just six years Tijuana’s soccer team has gone from non-existent, to securing a spot in Mexico’s top flight league. The exposure is helping improve Tijuana’s tarnished image while bringing many, a sense of hope.
“More tourists are going to want to go to TJ and they’re not going to have the idea that it’s dangerous or anything,” said Adriana Sanchez, a San Diego Xolos fan.
There are more than 22,000 seats in the Caliente stadium. On average they sell out 3 days in advance.
One of the toughest sections to get a seat in also happens to be one of the loudest. The section is known as “La Massacre”, meaning “the massacre” in English. They are a section of die-hard Xolo fans who will do nearly anything to keep the crowd amped throughout the game.
“The excitement that we have here, the hype, has splashed over and people in San Diego County have noticed and have been part of it,” said Orozco.
Escondido resident Aaron Smith says that despite the language barrier, it hasn’t kept him from watching his favorite soccer team.
“Even though it’s a different country and I’m coming from the United States, I don’t feel that way,” said Smith. “The people here are incredibly friendly.”
Linda Vista resident Dean Mitchell says he’s had season tickets since the beginning.
“When I started coming here I’d have to tell the cab drivers how to get here and they’d drop me off at the casino, but they didn’t know where the stadium was,” said Mitchell. “But now everybody knows about the Xolos.”
At JV’s Mexican Food Restaurant in Linda Vista, the place has become a favorite spot for fans to watch the game on TV.
“A lot of people want to bring their families they don’t want to go out to a big bar so we have the room to accommodate everybody,” said JV’s Owner Lalo Verduzco.
The demand can be felt all over San Diego County. The Xolos team opened a kiosk at the Plaza Bonita Mall in National City so fans could buy the team’s official merchandise without having to cross the border.
“We’ve actually been open almost a month and we sell out in every product, people go crazy for it,” said Martin Ortega, who works the kiosk for Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente.
Earlier this week fans lined up as early as 5 a.m. outside the small kiosk, not only to get their gear, but to buy tickets for Thursday’s big game.
But the kiosk had already sold out.
“Last time we had the guest De Leon for the play-off game and we sold out in about five minutes,” said Ortega.
But if their ticket sales are not enough proof of their popularity. How about a program with 300 aspiring soccer stars?
“One of the main goals of the club is obviously to see the talent that goes to Tijuana eventually,” said Luis Guerra, a coach with Xolos USA Academy.
The academy began earlier this year in Chula Vista. It is a year-round soccer camp run by the Xolo’s team for boys and girls ages eight to 14 years old.
“We watch their practices and they interact with the kids every now and then,” said Guerra. “We also run the curriculum that the Xolos and the professional team carry in their practices,” he explained.
“It’s a life experience and it feels amazing,” said Joshua Juarez, one of the camp participants.
For many it is a chance not only to be part of a team but a tradition, proving that if anything, it is here to stay.