Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuitles de Caliente, or "Xolos" (pronounced Sholos), are close to wrapping up a nearly week-long pre-season training camp in San Diego.
The reigning Mexican soccer league champions travelled north of the international border as part of a mini-outreach tour, hoping soccer fans in San Diego county will embrace them as “their team” even though they are based in Tijuana, Mexico.
On Thursday the team practiced at Petco Park for the second time and was welcomed by San Diego mayor Bob Filner.
“You are our champions, too, ” Filner said. “Viva los Xolos!”
The team in turn presented Filner with a personalized jersey emblazoned with his name and the number “619” on the back.
“We are happy to be back, (to) start the preseason to get into rhythm again,” said Sweetwater Union High School alum Joe Corona. “Fans are expecting a lot from us after the championship and we have to be well prepared.
While the team has morning runs on the beaches of Coronado, at the stadium the atmosphere is more relaxed as players light-heartedly move through drills and shooting exercises.
The Xolos have their sights set firmly on 2013, a year that will bring brand new challenges for the young team as they compete in Mexico’s first division with the added weight of being champions.
The Xolos will also represent all of Mexico in South America’s biggest club tournament, Copa Libertadores.
“We are very happy about winning the championship, but that is all now in the past. We want to get back to work so we can win more things,” said left back Greg Garza, who scored the lone goal in last season’s quarterfinals victory over Monterrey.
It is important for the team to get into shape as quickly as possible as the heavy schedule of games will be coming at them quickly. Mexico’s professional league, Liga MX, will kick off on Jan. 6 with a visit to Puebla, and the Copa Libertadores will commence midway through January.
“We have to try and surpass what we did, we can do more despite finishing as champions and keep dreaming,” said Corona, who plays midfield. “The LIGA MX and Copa Libertadores are coming up.We are very motivated to keep transcending and leaving a mark within Mexican soccer.”
In the Copa Libertadores, the Xolos are scheduled to play in Group 5 against Corinthians of Brasil, San José Oruro of Bolivia, and Millonarios of Colombia.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect pronounciation of Xolos.