It’s been a good year for soccer at the border.
In 2012, Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente made history by taking the Mexican Premiere League championships, an unprecedented win that has catapulted the team onto the world stage. As a result, bumper stickers and pennants featuring the stylized dog drawn in black, white and red have become a familiar sight around San Diego.
The Tijuana team has also spawned a football club on the U.S. side of the border. Xoloitzcuintles FC, the related youth academy and soccer club, is taking enormous strides in tandem with the Tijuana team. The football club has facilities in Temecula and Chula Vista and is getting ready to open a third in San Bernardino. The Xolos USA Academy holds events and practices at Hilltop High School, Otay Ranch High School and at the Olympic Training Center.
René Ortíz, the Chula Vista program’s coaching director, says there has been a surge of interest in the youth academy since the Tijuana Xolos have crossed over into the mainstream, and more so since the team has reached champion status.
“We had a very good turnout at the beginning, back in March, even though we started late compared to other clubs. We’re fortunate to have 14 teams here in Chula Vista... I think the fact that the Xolos are successful helps a lot to have more and more kids in the club.”
On practice nights, the football field at Hilltop High teems with players, from tiny under-8s to muscular 17-year-olds who look ready to step straight into a professional team. Their parents are there too, calling out support from the sidelines, many wearing the trademark black-and-red Xolos hats and scarves. Sometimes players from the Tijuana team show up to offer support and, recently, star quality.
The club has also made a special effort to reach out to girls and young women. Eastlake resident Aleyda Villarreal’s 11-year-old daughter Xiomara plays in the under-12 category. She has been involved with the team since last June.
“She really loves it,” said Villarreal. “She’s always kicking a ball. I love to support her because she really enjoys it and she’s learning a lot from that team. They’re always having fun – that’s what I like about it.”
And why did they choose this particular youth academy, when there are at least five other local clubs to choose from?
“Because it’s Xolos. We want to support the team.”
Eduardo Salazar, 17, who is from Perris, practices with the club at Hilltop High School. He said he has been playing since he was 7 years old.
“We just came out to have fun, practice, represent the Xolos from TJ, work to get better ... practice with our teammates to reach the next level professionally,” said Salazar.
Salazar said that he hopes to make it into the official Tijuana team.
“I’m pretty sure that’s everybody’s goal,” he said, laughing.
The next tryouts for the teams will be held Jan. 12, 13, 15 and 17 at Hilltop High School.
For more information, go to www.xolosusa.org.