While Athletic Bilbao of Spain travels to the United States for only the second time, its opponent, Club Tijuana, travels all over the U.S.
The international friendly at 7:06 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium marks its third and final trip to America this preseason after playing in Fullerton, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, this month. And the team traveled to face the Seattle Sounders in March, Real Salt Lake in 2014 and took over Petco Park in San Diego for a friendly vs. Mexico’s Club America in 2013.
Here is a rundown of other key facts about Club Tijuana:
NO, THE MASCOT ISN’T A CHIHUAHUA
The club’s full name is “Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente.” But fans typically refer to them as the Xolos (pronounced “CHO-los”). A Xoloitzcuintle, featured on the team’s crest, is a dog more commonly referred to as a Mexican hairless dog, available in toy, miniature and full sizes (up to 50 pounds). Aztecs considered the dogs sacred and they remain the national dog of Mexico.
The club fields a muscular mascot, Xolo Mayor, with a Xoloitzcuintle head at its game, a mascot with its own Twitter account.
AMERICANS ON THE ROSTER
Club Tijuana has relied on young American players to attract fans across the border and to fill its lineup.
Joe Corona (15 caps, or games, with the U.S. men’s senior national team) scored the Xolos’ first goal in Mexico’s top league and played five years with Club Tijuana before going out on loan this season.
Last year’s roster included seven American-born players, including five under 20 years old who have played for U.S. youth national teams, leading to sightings of U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann at its games.
Americans on the current roster include defender Michael Orozco (16 caps for the U.S. senior national team), midfielder Alejandro Guido (54 caps for various U.S. youth teams), forward Paul Arriola (25 caps for various youth teams), forward Amando Moreno (23 caps between U-18 and U-20 teams) and midfielder Fernando Arce Juárez (four caps with U-20s).
The club has also established youth academies in the U.S. to further mine American talent. And its women’s team plays in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, the second-tier of women’s soccer in the U.S.
Founded in 2007, Club Tijuana has rocketed to the top of Mexican soccer, earning promotion to the first division, Liga MX, in 2011. Primarily known as a baseball town, Tijuana then went on to win the “Apertura” (first-half title) in 2012.
The title earned it a spot in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League, where it reached the semifinals of the tournament for the top clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. It also reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 Copa Libertadores, reserved for the top South American and Mexican clubs.
Tijuana threatened to win the “Clausura” (second-half title) early in 2014-15 before collapsing and going 0-6-1 in its last seven games, dropping to 11th in the 18-team Liga MX.
The team’s quick ascension is also reflected in its stadium. Opened in 2007 to seat 13,333, it has since expanded to hold 21,000 with a synthetic grass field. The team plans to continue expanding the stadium until it seats 33,000.
While Jorge Hank Rhon has handed over management of the team to this son, the Tijuana owner remains a dubious figure over the franchise.
The former mayor of Tijuana owns a casino and a dog-racing track next door to the team’s stadium. And one of Mexico’s wealthiest men has run-ins with the law dating to the 1988 murder of an investigative journalist but has never been convicted. Two of Hank Rhon’s bodyguards were convicted of the murder but denied any link to Hank Rhon, according to the Associated Press.
A pair of 2009 cables from the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, obtained by WikiLeaks, said the wild animal collector was "best known for his ties to organized crime and maintaining an animal menagerie in the municipal hall," and "Hank is widely believed to have been a corrupt mayor and to be still involved in narco-trafficking." Neither cited any evidence.
In 2011, Mexican authorities arrested Hank Rhon after finding 40 rifles, 48 handguns, 9,298 bullets, 70 ammunition clips and a gas grenade at his home, which hosts a zoo with a reported 20,000 animals. But a judge later dismissed the charges because authorities did not have a warrant, and his lawyer claimed the charges were trumped up to prevent a 2013 run for governor.
According to the AP, the eccentric owner “has boasted of getting energy from drinking a tequila laced with bear bile, scorpions and rattlesnakes, and steeped with the penises of tigers, lions and dogs.”