A National Fever
It wasn’t until Mexico’s World Cup in 1986 that the north of Mexico caught futbol fever. We got to watch the figures, their moves, and skills. We learned that Hugo Sánchez displayed incredible acrobatic feats because his sister was an Olympic gymnast who trained him in her sport. We also got to see Argentine Diego Armando Maradona, a powerful player who was always in control of the ball. We learned disappointment after the game against Germany. (It’s the only day that I’ve seen my mother fall on her knees and cry.) We lost that game, but we were happy that the cup stayed in Latin America; Argentina won. It was during the summer of 1986 that futbol took off in the north. People just started to play futbol; kids in the colonias would use two rocks as goalposts and would play on the dirt till the sun went down. futbol fever was incredibly important for Tijuana. This was when a larger number of leagues first started to organize.
Tijuana had many minor-league futbol teams before the Xolos. There was Inter, Dorados, Trotamundos, Chivas Tijuana, Stars, Nacional. All of them were put together by promoters from the south of Mexico, but none of them lasted. A futbol team was a big investment that didn’t always pay off. Tijuana’s a city of migrants who came to live in beisbol territory. The new residents remained loyal to their home teams, such as the Chivas, América, Cruz Azul, Atlas, Pumas, Tigres, León, Necaxa, Pachuca, among many others. There was a marked division: old tijuanenses stayed with beisbol, while newcomers preferred futbol.
In 2004, something weird happened. After a long period of not participating in politics and a very long list of scandals, the eccentric billionaire and animal collector Jorge Hank Rhon was elected mayor of Tijuana after waging an original and racy campaign; it was the only way the PRI was able to win back Tijuana after 15 years of rule by the PAN party. It was during his days in office that he decided that Tijuana needed a futbol team, and so he formed the Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente. The team belongs to his son Jorge Alberto. It’s a private enterprise and an obvious but smart political move that would make him popular in a city thirsty for unity and identity. Despite his shortcomings and scandalous reputation, no politician or futbol promoter before him was smart enough or had enough funds to give Tijuana a good team. The initial team was formed with players drafted from central Mexico, plus a couple of players from Argentina and Brazil. The club trained young local kids who now play for the team, such as Antonio Madueña and Jorge Martínez from Mexicali, Ismael Fierro from Ensenada, Carlos Bermudez from San Felipe, Mauricio Beltrán and Daniel Farfán from Tijuana. There is also one Mexican-American player: Joe Corona, who left the Aztecs to play with the Xolos because of money and tuition problems at SDSU, plus the fact that his personal style wasn’t improving with the Aztecs. In general, U.S. soccer is a very physical game, but Mexican futbol focuses on controlled speed, skill, the ability to fool the opponent, to make him dance along. They are very different styles.
Eric Rosales, media coordinator of the Xoloitzcuintles says, “Baja California’s talent is starting to bloom. Corona is the first Mexican-American to play with the Xolos. He’s been a remarkable player in the third-division team and had a great debut with the main team. Before him, Bruno Piceno was the first tijuanense to play with us. He’s very talented, a creative midfielder who makes lots of goals.” However, the unreached goal for the Xoloitzcuintles is to make it to the Mexican first-division league, a task they were close to reaching during the last season when they lost in the semifinals against Necaxa.
Expectations are high for the next season, but the team is still too young, a quality that is appreciated, but it’s not the ideal. As in so many things in life, strength and speed may decrease, but the moves will only improve with time, practice, and experience. The Xoloitzcuintles’ main goal is to enter the Mexican first division and be able to play against the Chivas, Pumas, Tigres, and Águilas, but until then, they will have to be content with sharing a parking lot with lions and tigers and bears.
You can read the Spanish version of this article here.