futbol, soccer, sports, tijuana, xolos Add comments

Fans gather inside the stadium waiting for kickoff.



In the stadium most everyone was seated. Marshaled in the south, a band of men and women stood with flags the same color as their black and red painted faces squinting into the sun.

Drummers descended first, punctuating each step down the concrete stairs in a unified rhythm. The trumpets followed and both vanguards spread out over the plastic seats no one would use.

Thousands chanted, propelling the flag bearers down and over the bleachers and heralding wave after wave of believers closer to the field.

“Xolos! Xolos! Xolos!”

Fidel Martinez heard them. Saw them. Felt them. The Ecuadorian forward relentlessly pursued the ball and forced his will onto the men of Leon. If his runs were occasionally aimless or his passes misdirected, he was no less determined to carry the Xolos onto victory.

"Xolos! Xolos! Xolos!"

That moment arrived when Duvier Riascos —the forward whose dazzling step-overs and genteel pirouettes with the ball were stifled by vindictive opponents—drew a defender and casually back heeled a pass to Martinez. With one left-footed touch, the 22-year-old blasted the ball into the right side of the net and hoisted the hopes of 23,000 people onto his shoulders.

But it was Riascos’s score in the second half that pushed the assembled crowd to the brink of euphoria and Richard Ruiz’s clinching goal near the end that unleashed the screams and shouts of ecstasy. The Xolos had won. They had earned the right to play in the final. They had lifted Tijuana and carried it through.

The flags waved through the night.

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