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León vs. Tijuana: La Fiera ascends, Xolos get their star

Part two in a comprehensive look at the past, present, and future of the rivalry between Club León and Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles.

Tijuana Xolos Saucedo

Every rivalry has an origin, a point where both sides can look back and point to as the reason why they absolutely can not stand the other team. Sometimes it boils down to geography. Other times, this can revolve around a few moments in time that change the trajectory of the teams involved.

November 25, 2012

After their defeat in the 2011 Clausura Liguilla at the hands of Tijuana, León faced another season in the Liga de Ascenso. Undeterred, they would win the 2012 Clausura and defeat Correcaminos UAT in the Final de Ascenso to be promoted back to the newly rebranded Liga MX, They were finally back in the Mexican first division after a decade.

Kari Torres of FutMexNation said “Each team has their respected history, some more complex and rich like León’s that to this day when León may not be doing well the fans can look back and reflect how high León was as well as how low. Ten years struggling to be back in the first division; well it wasn’t easy. The history goes much deeper because it has the emotions attached to it. Those ten years León struggled, the fan base never failed to be there at Nou Camp cheering their team unconditionally. Nou Camp is a tough stadium to play in, the atmosphere is intense. Tijuana is fairly new, but the rivalry still exists... because both teams lived through it. Tijuana won its promotion before Leon did, and well that damaged Leon.”

In their first season back, León would watch as the team that had kept them out of Liga MX the year before would win the 2012 Apertura - again at León’s expense. Tijuana would finish in second place in the table during the regular season, one point ahead of León. They would meet in the Liguilla semifinals, and on November 22nd, León would get a 2-0 lead in the first leg at Nou Camp thanks to goals from Othoniel Arce and Carlos Peña.

Things looked dire for Xolos as they headed back to Tijuana for the return leg on November 25th. They would however perform something approaching a miracle, getting goals from Fidel Martínez in the 42nd minute, Duvier Riascos in the 67th minute, and a 90th minute breakaway from Richard Ruiz to see them through.

Francisco Velasco, who co-hosts The Xolos Podcast and covers Tijuana sports for the East Village Times said, “(The) pivotal moment in the rivalry so far has to be the semifinal series in the Apertura 2012 season. León had a 2-0 lead heading into Tijuana and then Xolos did the unthinkable and won 3-0 at the Estadio Caliente in the return leg and eventually went on to win their lone championship.“

Xolos fan Jose Aguilar said, “The first time I truly considered León as a rival was in the semi finals of 2012. I sadly did not experience the early encounters in the Ascenso. The way we did the comeback and the previous knockout games against León, it truly felt very special and that’s where I felt this rival is special for us Xolos fans.”

They then thrashed Toluca 4-1 on aggregate to hoist the first Liga MX title in club history. Xolos would qualify for the Copa Libertadores; the biggest club competition in the Western Hemisphere. They would lose in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Atlético Mineiro due to away goals.

Joz Villanueva of Nación Esmeralda points at the succession of events as the genesis for him. “When they got promoted before us, when they won their first title in record time, and (then) when they reached a Copa Libertadores quarterfinal. A feat we haven’t achieved despite our seniority.”

Tijuana had the upper hand early, but things always have a way of balancing themselves out.

Part two in a five part series.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five