Xolos Strike Out Club América at Petco Park
Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team, was partly transformed into a soccer field for a day. What is usually territory covered by Padres outfielders Venable, Quentin, and Denorfia, temporarily became ground for the San Diego Clásico. A strange narrow field was set up for this pre-season match between the current reigning champs, Club América and Tijuana's Xolos, who won the title a season ago. In theory, the match served as some sort of Super Cup as the last two Liga MX champions faced off in America's finest city. In practice, the San Diego Clásico served as an experiment for both coaches prior to a season full of uncertainties as both clubs set up to start a new season without their respective star forwards who were transferred during the off season. (Duvier Riascos left Xolos to join Pachuca, while America's Christian Benítez recently confirmed his move to the Qatari soccer league.)
Right from kick off, it became obvious that this would be an offensive match to be disputed in both boxes due to the short dimensions of the improvised field. It was Club América who had the first chance at goal after newcomer Luis Angel Mendoza hit a dangerous low cross that passed through the crowded 6-yard Tijuana box. However, Xolos took control shortly after. A foul 10 yards outside America's box at the 10th minute mark granted Tijuana a perfect opportunity to open up the score. Free kicks were Tijuana's most dangerous weapon last year thanks to the creativity of former coach Antonio Mohamed. The spirit of Mohamed still lives in the soul of the Xolos squad as they converted their first free kick attempt. Martínez sent a curve ball into the heart of America's box and the always effective Pablo Aguilar beat everyone to the high ball to give the border team the early lead.
Not even a minute had gone by after the first goal was scored, when Richard Ruiz sprinted to the goal line to save a ball that was destined to go out of bounds. His efforts paid off, Ruiz reached the ball before it abandoned the field and one touched it into the 6 yard box where he found a diving Fidel Martínez who anticipated America's goalkeeper to head in the ball for a spectacular score. Last time Petco Park was this loud was when 'Mr. Padre' Tony Gwynn got his last hit playing for San Diego. The clamorous cheer for Tijuana's goal proved who the loudest fans were at Petco despite the 50/50 split support in the stands.
On the 20th minute, the 2-0 lead turned into a potential epic pre-season beating. Tijuana fans had more to cheer about when once again Richard Ruiz crossed the ball to Fidel Martínez. This time his pass targeted the Ecuadorian in the far post. Martinez came out to the field feeling awfully generous as he headed the ball to the middle finding the veteran Argentine, Diego Olsina, who sent the ball to the net with his forehead right in the face of America's reserve keeper Hugo Gonzalez. Tijuana's first half party at Petco was not over yet. Martínez got his 3rd assist of the half through a 3 touch fast break that ended in Emmanuel Cerda's goal. Cerca beat the American defensive line with a superb run, which he topped off with a soft finish to the left of the static González.
In baseball terms, the first half ended with a Grand Slam by Fidel Martínez who brought in the runs from Cerda, Olsina, and Aguilar.
Xolos came out strong for the 2nd half, pressuring América's defense and controlling possession. Not long after the start of the 2nd half, Xolos added to their already impressive lead making it an embarrassing 5-0 score against the reigning champions. Although the match was just a friendly, the pride of America's coach Miguel Herrera was destroyed. Herrera resorted to his newly acquired forward, the Colombian Luis Gabriel Rey, who came in as a pinch hitter to at least get America in the scoreboard. Rey's presence on the field made an effect as the Colombian quickly responded with a pair of consecutive goals in a five minute span. His first goal on the 5th minute, an impressive volley that went flying by Zermeño's head, was a clear message to the fans to remain calm despite the exit of America's star forward, the Ecuadorian Christian Benítez, who made a money-driven move to Qatar. The Colombian's 2nd goal showed that the forward will risk his body for his new team as he joined a hard fought battle inside of the Xolos 6-yard box for the score.
5-2 was the final score, which paid tribute to the baseball scenario that was set up for this epic match between Xolos and América in another thrilling version of the San Diego Clásico.
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