Xolos play against Chivas USA on Wednesday in SD

Tijuana's team wants to connect with fans north of border

They came in packs.

They lined up and stood outside on the hillsides surrounding the Torero Stadium. They peaked through bushes, branches and a fence along Linda Vista Road to try and get a glimpse of the action inside.

Those were the hundred of fans that couldn't get a ticket to an exhibition soccer match last March.

It wasn't just the hype surrounding an international superstar on a college field that helped fill the 6,000 seat stadium.

Sure, it's not all the time David Beckham and Landon Donovan come to town for a meaningless match between a Major League Soccer club and a Mexican second division team.

But it was the "regional" team that beat the Los Angeles Galaxy in penalty kicks and energized the stadium.

And it might just be the same Wednesday night when Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles crosses the border to face

MLS' Chivas USA, at Torero Stadium in the second version of what is being called the San Diego Clasico.

The friendly match may probably not draw a crowd similar to last year's without Beckham on the field but don't be surprised if the Xolos faithful bring a strong backing.

That's what happened last year.

Promoters were concerned about ticket sales leading up to game day last winter until getting a large number of walk up ticket sales, mostly from Xolos fans.

That could happen again. Chivas USA isn't immediately as attractive but it does carry Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel on its roster. It could be a tough ticket to sell.

Not the Xolos.

Not in this region.

After all, the Xolos is within the 10 best teams in Mexico's top flight league this season and has become a sensation on both sides of the border.

Tijuana has sold out every home match at the 20,000 seat Estadio Caliente since being promoted to the Primera Division last summer. And plenty of those in attendance travel from San Diego County.

Logic says a popular local team should be playing in the San Diego Clasico against the Xolos. But that would mean the Xolos would play themselves.

The Club has created enough buzz that some might argue it can be considered San Diego's third most popular team after the Chargers and Padres.

"I'd agree with that," said Roberto Cornejo, the Xolos assistant general manager and Francis Parker High alum. "We continue to grow there. We consider San Diego our territory."

A considerable amount of season ticket holders are from the United States, most cross into Tijuana from San Diego County for each game.

"We don't have the exact numbers but it's becoming evident," Cornejo said. "You can see more and more people waiting to cross the border wearing the team jersey. You can see the team (logo) sticker on cars on the streets and freeway. We want to give back to our fans there who can't come to Tijuana for whatever reason."

Wednesday's match is part of that.

The club has integrated the market on both sides of the border. It's held popular youth camps in San Ysidro. It is trying to make Wednesday night's game an annual event that could be played at Qualcomm Stadium against maybe a European club.

Club Tijuana wants to keep its regional status by raking in local talent to its youth teams or fuerzas basicas.

Xolos midfielder Joe Corona, who is a Sweetwater High alum and played at SDSU, is a product of that system.

"Playing on a hometown team makes it great for me and for all the fans," Corona said last summer when the Xolos were promoted to the Primera Division. "You couldn't ask for a better atmosphere."

Even players on opposing teams have noticed the hype the Xolos bring to the area.

"The fans are a lot more invested than some of the other places I've been," said former MLS player Hercules Gomez after the Xolos lost to Santos Laguna last month. "They're very supportive. They've very 12th man. They want to be felt, but in a positive manner. I think their fans identify with the team. They've got a fantastic thing going."

And it's spilling into North of the border.

San Diego has been considered a hotbed for soccer despite not having its own professional outdoor club. Major League Soccer considered a franchise in San Diego on several occasions.

Chivas USA was a candidate.

Jorge Vergara, who owns Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara and its MLS sister club, could have brought Chivas USA to San Diego. After all, MLS offered Vergara two markets, Houston and San Diego.

He immediately said no to Houston, then carefully considered San Diego. He even reportedly flew a delegation here to tour Qualcomm Stadium and meet city officials. He ultimately opted to share the Los Angeles market with the Galaxy and play at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

"The first option I was offered from MLS was San Diego," Vergara said last summer when Guadalajara faced Real Madrid in a friendly at Qualcomm Stadium. "I refused it. I didn't want to go to San Diego. I wanted to go to LA, and I'm completely sure, 100 percent, we want to stay in LA. We've invested a lot of money in Los Angeles. We're going to stay in L.A. forever and ever."

Still there were rumors Chivas USA was coming to San Diego.

Vergara quickly shut those down.

"Not at all. Completely, 100 percent no," he said last year.

More murmurs have surfaced about Chivas USA moving out of Carson this year and possibly play at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Regardless, it appears San Diego is clearly out of the picture.

For now, San Diego might just have to get used to people lining up behind fences with their heads peeking through brush outside a packed stadium. And it can thank the Xolos for that.



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