Giancarlo Torres grew up following the Mexican club soccer teams of his parents. His father rooted from Puebla, his hometown team, and his mother followed, León, her family’s club.
But once he saw a Club Tijuana game, he knew he’d found a team of his own.
Torres first caught a glance of Tijuana on TV when it played in Mexico’s second division. But since earning a promotion in 2011 to the first division — four years after its founding — and winning a championship in 2012, Torres said he rarely misses a game on television.
Torres, 21, said he identifies with the club because of its heavy Mexican-American influence. While the rest of Liga MX, Mexico’s top league, focuses on Mexican or Latin American players, the Xolos fielded seven Mexican-American players last season. Five dot its roster this year, including newly-signed defender Michael Orozco, who has made 16 appearances for the U.S. men’s national team.
“When you see others like you, it’s natural,” said Torres, a Meridian resident and first-generation Mexican-American born in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles. “You can’t really explain it. You feel that connection, you know what I mean?”
Torres remains far from alone. Club Tijuana has not only embraced its place on the Mexican-American border. It’s taken advantage of it, recruiting Mexican-American players from across the border with the promise they can live in the United States and cross the border — a part of every-day life in Tijuana — for practice and games.
The cross-border pull extends to fans as well. Mexican-Americans see a team that represents their blended culture. And even white Americans have flocked to the team. The club estimates a quarter of its fans cross the border from America for each game.
“More and more, on the way to games and on the way back, I’m seeing non-Hispanic white people — dads and sons, and groups of young men, mostly — who cross to go watch the games,” said Alex Riggins, who covers the Xolos as a freelancer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Like Torres, Payette resident Alvaro Meza became a fan of Tijuana from afar in Idaho. The Southern California native even picked the Xolos jersey for the Weiser-based team he coaches in Liga Azteca, an adult Latino soccer league in the Treasure Valley, to wear this season.
And like Torres, he started following Tijuana because of its reliance on Mexican-American players, giving him a chance to get to know the next generation of talent for the U.S. men’s team. Despite his Mexican-born parents, Meza cheers for the country he was born in, the United States.
Neither Torres nor Meza has attended a Xolos game in person. So they both jumped at the chance to watch them in Boise.
Torres let out a cheer during a business class at the College of Idaho while watching the press conference announcing Tijuana’s trip. He bought tickets for his family as a present for his father’s, Eddie Torres, birthday.
The game is the first professional soccer match for Meza, and he said he’s hoping some of the Xolos’ devout fans, who bang on drums, paint their faces and wave flags throughout the game, make the trip to Boise.
“I want to see the best action I can from my first experience going to watch a game like this,” Meza, 28, said. “I watch them on TV from the Mexican league, and they go all out with flares, noises and horns. I’m hoping we get some of the same excitement.”