The wait is over. Professional soccer is back South of the border.
Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles opens the 2012 Apertura tournament of the Mexican First Division when it hosts Puebla Friday night at Estadio Caliente.
Tijuana, a team that went from being close to relegation back to the minor leagues just one year ago, is coming off an unprecedented season. Coach Antonio Mohamed’s squad reached the post season in the team’s second tournament in Mexico’s top flight league.
The Xolos clinched a postseason slot after finishing seventh in the overall standings, pairing the team with eventual runner up Monterrey in the quarterfinals.
Tijuana is hoping to make another run at the playoffs, or “Liguilla,” and advance past the quarterfinals. But to repeat on a postseason appearance, the Xolos might have to win early.
After all, Tijuana could have what is the toughest schedule yet.
The 17-game schedule opens Friday against Puebla at home, then Leon, and then Tijuana is home against UNAM Pumas. Puebla and Pumas failed to make the recent Clausura playoffs.
Leon is newly promoted from the second division or “Liga de Ascenso.”
But then things turn tough. The Xolos must play away against both Clausura finalists. That would be Santos Laguna and Monterrey, the team that eliminated the Xolos from the playoffs last tournament.
The Xolos then also face Mexico’s richest clubs, on the road. Mexico’s City’s Club America and Chivas of Guadalajara both played at Estadio Caliente last season. In addition to these powerhouse teams, the Xolos must play all four semifinalists from the Clausura season on the road.
The good news for Tijuana is that the schedule flips for the 2013 Clausura tournament, with all those tough road games against powerhouse teams becoming home games.
The Xolos went 2-2-2 against the league’s best teams last tournament. That includes regular season wins against Monterrey and Chivas, loses to Santos Laguna and Tigres UANL and draws against Club America and Morelia.
Tijuana sees those teams later in the upcoming season.
Xolos defender and team captain Javier Gandolfi said the team is ready for the challenge.
“We had a very good offseason with some good preparation matches,” Gandolfi said in Spanish. “I think we will fine as we approach the first game. Our daily obligation is to get better. We were left with a thorn in our side after the last tournament. But that is history. We know we have to make new history, new objectives, new visions so that the team is confident and conscious. That way we will come out this weekend and try to earn those three points.”
The Xolos will also try to win as part of the Torneo de Copa, Mexico’s rejuvenated domestic cup. They drew into a group with Merida, Celaya and Pumas, opening July 24 at home against Merida.