A Liga MX championship. A quarterfinal finish in Copa Libertadores. A spot in the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League. This would be a fantastic feat for the most storied clubs in Mexico, and even more remarkable for the fledgling club just south of the border called Club Tijuana, or more commonly Xolos. It’s that achievement that brought Herculez Gomez to the club he now calls home.
“It was a novelty idea with Tijuana when they got to the First Division. But then they just starting get after it in every sense,” said Gomez. “In two years, they’ve won a Liga MX title, made a deep run into the Copa Libertadores, and now they are in the CONCACAF Champions League. Their brief history at this level has been nothing short of remarkable. I have friends in this area and they tell me Xolos is absolutely running this region. They put their stamp on this area and to see what they’ve become is something special and even more so now that I am part of it.”
Gomez now makes one part of “The Three Amigos”, along with fellow U.S. internationals Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona. They are a part of a growing number of Mexican-Americans having an influence on this unique club, highlighting the special place Xolos holds for fans on both sides of the border.
“People love soccer in Tijuana very much, and they have a lot of pride in Xolos,” said Castillo. “In less than a year we won a Liga MX championship and we did good in the Copa Libertadores, so now our club has a good name in Mexico and it feels like we’re a big team.”
For Corona, who scored in the promotion playoff finals two years ago and played in the championship games against Toluca a year later, having the U.S. National Team players on the squad sends an important message.
“It’s cool that we have three players from the U.S. National Team now on one team. A lot of kids in the younger teams in the club can look up to us,” said Corona. “Herc would ask me how it was in Tijuana and asked if he would fit into it. He already lived in San Diego when he was younger, and now having him over also gives Tijuana an identity. Now Mexican-Americans know this is a good place to get an opportunity.”
As Gomez sees it, Castillo and Corona are great role models for the Mexican-American kids to follow.
“When you talk about Edgar and Joe, they embody everything you’d want in a pro,” said Gomez. “They’re two very young and promising players and I love what they stand for. As a Chicano growing up, I didn’t have many players to look up to but know with players like Joe and Edgar there are players kids can look up to.”
The first of the trio to arrive at Club Tijuana, Corona still lives in San Diego and crosses the border for training and games. It made the transition for Castillo that much easier when he joined the team.
“I get along with Joe really well,” Castillo said. “He’s my roommate at Xolos and I go to his house every week. His mom makes great pupusas, and it’s always good to have a home-cooked meal.”
The bond between the two has been strong, and Corona believes the addition of Gomez to the squad will help their performance for both club and country.
“Edgar and Herculez are great players,” Corona said. “It’s been a great experience playing side-by-side with Edgar, and we know each other really well on and off the field. I am just looking forward to next season, and having Herc with us will allow us to get to know each other better so when we’re called into the National Team we already have that familiarity, chemistry and commitment.”
That chemistry and commitment was another huge factor in the decision for Gomez to make his way to the border.
“In Mexico, soccer is a business and many of the locker rooms down there are not tight knit or feel like a family,” Gomez said. “The one thing Edgar and Joe told me was how awesome the locker room was and that was very important to me. I have only been there about a week but you can already tell how they get along, they’re friends and genuinely like one another. Everything has come together for them and it’s been awesome. To be honest, they were influential in me coming to Xolos.
Clearly it’s going to be a special for the trio Friday night when they get to represent the United States in front of both sets of their hometown fans. Gomez began his career in San Diego, and he proud to see what his teammates have accomplished.“If you look at Joe, he’s local boy doing good. He’s a hometown hero and he’s wearing it very well,” said Gomez. “To see what him and Edgar are doing in Liga MX and now breaking into the National Team, they are about to explode onto the scene, and for the people in this region it’s very exciting to see them up close and personal.”