TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Tijuana has a football club that's finally bringing the border city some positive coverage, after long being known for the wrong reasons.
The team is aiming to win the Mexican league title, which would be a giant step forward for a club that was established just over five years ago. The success has given a big lift to football fans in the Mexico-United States border region, which has been battered for years by drug-related violence that has demoralized its citizens.
The club is coached by Argentine Antonio Mohamed, who came to Tijuana from Argentine club Independiente. A former striker, Mohamed played for years in Mexico and went on to coach several Mexican clubs, but has found his place with this one.
Tijuana reached the Mexican playoffs last season, only to be eliminated in the quarterfinals. Mohamed is hoping this time will be different with the team already guaranteed a place in the final-eight playoffs. The club has lost only one of 15 league games this season going into play this weekend.
"When you look at it, you realize this is the reward for our hard word and remaining humble," said Mohamed, who was famous in Mexico for playing with is hair dyed bleach-blond. "We have no reason to change now. The success won't distract us. We have to keep our feet on the ground and keep thinking game by game. We can't change."
The team's success has led fans to forget the controversy surrounding the club's ownership.
The owner is Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana and a gambling magnate. Rhon was arrested in 2011 and held on weapons charges, which were eventually dismissed by a federal appeals court.
Rhon was Tijuana's mayor from 2004 to 2007, when he staged a failed run for state governor. He has long figured large on the national political scene, and not only because of the wealth amassed from his Caliente gambling empire. His father was one of Mexico's best-known politicians as the leader of a faction in the PRI, which ruled Mexico from 1929 until 2000.
The club's president is Rhon's son Jorge Alberto Hank Inzunza.
Established in 2007, the club goes by the nickname of "Los Xolos," — pronounced HO-lows — which is short for Xoloitzcuintle, a type of Aztec dog. The popularity of the team has helped the city improve its self-image.
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