MEXICO CITY (AP) – The people of Tijuana did not have a professional team in the top two divisions of Mexican soccer six years ago. Now they can celebrate a champion.
Club Tijuana completed its dramatic ascent to the summit of Liga MX with a 2-0 victory at Toluca on Sunday to claim the Apertura title.
Richard Ruiz and Duvier Riascos scored the decisive goals in the second half to claim a 4-1 victory on aggregate in the Liguilla final, but this triumph resulted from a thoroughly professional away performance that contradicted Tijuana's paucity of experience at this level.
Most observers expected Toluca to create opportunities and pile on the pressure in a bid to overturn the 2-1 defeat suffered at Estadio Caliente on Thursday night. The expected surge never arrived as Antonio Mohamad's side showed why it posted the best defensive record in the Apertura with another composed and disciplined display.
Toluca failed to find its usual rhythm during the first half in a ragged match that suited Tijuana's desire to preserve a shutout on the road. Influential schemer Sinha found some time and space in possession, but he could not provide the telling pass in the final third to break down the organized Tijuana rearguard.
Aside from an errant header by Diego Novaretti, Toluca faltered in its attempts to carve out decent opportunities before the interval. The second half started on a brighter note after both sides made alterations at the halftime.
American international defender Edgar Castillo forced a fine save from Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera with his swerving effort four minutes after play resumed. Toluca striker Luis Tejada somehow pushed his header wide eight minutes later from inside six yards in the best chance of the match for the Red Devils.
Toluca enjoyed the majority of the possession and pushed additional numbers into the attack in search of the goal required to send the tie into extra time. This enthusiasm ultimately suited the resolute Xolos because it created defensive gaps to exploit on the counter and invited the visitors to secure the pair of goals that ultimately settled the series.
Ruiz's alert reaction after 67 minutes opened the scoring. Fernando Arce curled a free kick off the near post after the active Fidel Martinez tempted Novaretti into committing a foul 25 yards from goal. Ruiz acted while the Toluca defenders watched and slotted home past Talavera to give Tijuana the lead its performance deserved.
A sweeping counter down the left side - the most profitable line of inquiry for the Xolos all day - doubled the advantage four minutes later. Castillo played directly out of the back to free Martinez down the flank. Riascos collected Martinez's pass, dribbled around the onrushing Talavera and tucked home into the vacated net to clinch the title.
The denouement left Toluca to rue its dearth of incisiveness and a first-half reprieve handed to Tijuana defender Javier Gandolfi for a dangerous tackle on Sinha, but the final whistle rightfully turned the spotlight back on the Xolos.
Mohamad's side has traveled a long way to reach this point. Its triumph resulted from the cohesiveness and the resolve required to propel this team to the top of Liga MX 18 months after its promotion from the second division.
As the Xolos collected their medals and lifted the trophy at the end of a magical season, the project started by betting magnate Jorge Hank Rhon finally came to fruition. Tijuana now has its team and its title to cherish.