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León vs. Tijuana: Facing forward

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

Xolos players applaud La Masakr3 during a match against León.
Xolos players applaud La Masakr3 during a match against León.
Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente press release

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 single point in time.

August 2018

In Week 16 of the 2017 Apertura, videos emerged of brawls between León fans and Xolos fans in the streets near the Estadio Caliente in Tijuana. This was an unwelcome throwback to the bad old days of the barra riot in 2011.

“Honestly, we don’t really like (León) or welcome them here,” Xolos fan Jose Aguilar says. “Tijuana is a friendly environment but every time they come there is always violence, provocations, insults, a lot of disrespect”

Aguilar admits however that there are some things he likes about La Fiera. “What I admire (about) León is the fact they maintain their idols a long period of time. (Mauro) Boselli, Elías (Hernández), and (Chapo) Montes for example even though Elías got sold this draft. In Xolos every six months we have to say goodbye to a great player.”

While the rivalry grows and becomes more heated, it’s good to see however that there’s still a level of respect that exists between the people on the two sides that I talked to. Kari Torres of FutMexNation says León fans view Tijuana “with respect because the talk takes place on the field. Each team has an abundant of support system that defends their team no matter what the circumstances are for the team at the time.

“(The) Tijuana fan base is continuously growing,” she continues. “Nou Camp has the capacity for 31,297 fans, as Estadio Caliente is 29,333; fairly close. (Fans) expect these stadiums to be filled week by week.”

Gringo Xolo” Marty Albert said, “I’ve had my season pass since 2011 so I’ve seen every home match against León and it a lot of fun!”

“We see (Tijuana) as a team that manages to stay competitive despite coach changes and important players leaving,” says Joz Villanueva of Nacion Esmeralda. “Most León fans will tell you there is a rivalry, but it isn’t big enough to be called a derby.”

Since all good rivalries or derbies need a name, I asked them what this one should be called. Villanueva went with a variation on the moniker I’ve heard most often. “It’s difficult to come up with a name because there isn’t any geographic similarities between the two. But if I had to pick a name it would be the ‘Ascenso Derby’.”

Torres however went with a slightly different one. “Clasico Nuevo, because it’s not the most talked about but the real fans know the type of rivalry and the hype around it as they encounter every season.”

When asked what they liked about their club’s rivals, Albert said, “I admire that they tried to bring Landon Donovan in to draw more attention to León and Liga MX.”

A native of Ontario, California (a mere two hours up Interstate 15 from the border), Donovan spent part of last season in León coming off of the bench in five games for La Fiera. León however has no English-language social media outlet, and that proved problematic when fans in the US tried to find out more about the team.

Both Torres and Villanueva pointed to Xolos embracing English-language engagement through social media and reaching out to fans in the United States as things they enjoyed about their team’s rival. “They have an English account and they cater to their fans in the U.S.,” says Torres. “Liga MX in English content is steadily growing and I admire that from Tijuana, as León has not yet opened an account in English. It is another language that the team can definitely benefit from as well as add on new fans.”

Villanueva agrees. “I admire that their marketing strategy and how they take advantage of their geographic location at the border between the U.S. and Mexico to the fullest by interacting with fans in English and Spanish across social media, and now through television.” He also likes that “they manage to stay competitive and the focus they put on their youth academy. (Xolos are) always entering and excelling international youth competitions. All this despite being a new team.”

But there’s no denying the rivalry. These two teams don’t share geographic proximity. There isn’t the innate cultural differences in the same mold of México City and Guadalajara (or Los Angeles and New York, or Toronto and Montréal). It’s two teams that in the process of furthering their own destinies have intertwined their fates.

“It makes the Rivalry different yet better in my opinion because the rivalry started with passion and it has always been about this,” says Aguilar. “Nothing about the city or media hype, no bragging rights, none of that. Simply two teams that play that match with a different intensity not only in the field but in the crowds as well.”

While it’s not a Clásico Nacional or a Clásico Tapatío, there’s enough history and tension between these two teams for it to be considered one of the best new rivalries in the league. And the best part is watching these teams continue to write that history each time they meet.

The final installment of a five part series.

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