Players, Guns & Money

They had been to the precipice of the of the first division for the past several years, but could manage that last crucial step… until this year. Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente (its pronounced show-lows-QUEENT-lays), or the more tongue friendly Xolos de Tijuana, won the Mexican Liga de Acenso (2nd division), and have been promoted to the top flight in Mexican futbol.

It is the first time any team from Baja California to play in the first division. Tijuana is the most Northern city ever to play in the first division, and a long way from the corridors of power of Mexican futbol. Tijuana is closer to Seattle than it is to Mexico City. And they ain’t your typical recently promoted club either.

Recent history has shown that clubs that have been recently promoted do not have the players or the budget to compete in the top flight. Of course, that is not necessarily limited to Mexico either.

Xolos has a gorgeous new stadium, a competent coach in Joaquin del Olmo (a former Pumas product, 2-time World Cup participant, and European export) and a great big bank account. It also doesn’t hurt that they have a fertile marketing ground just across the border in Southern California.

There are strong rumors that they will be signing Dayro Moreno from Once Caldas and River Plate’s Mariano Pavone. And they are expected to wear their hand out writing checks at the upcoming “draft.” They don’t just want to stay in the top flight, they want to compete for the post season.

Why so much capital, you ask.

The club’s official name says it all. The keyword, of course is Caliente. They play at the Estadio Caliente, it is on their shirts. Grupo Caliente is the biggest casino and sportsbook company in Mexico. The company’s president, Jorge Hank Rhon, was detained over the weekend while scores of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were confiscated from his house.

Naturally, there would seem to big a colossal conflict of interest with a sportsbook owning a team, not to mention an owner detained with weapons at his compound. Even FMF might have a problem with that, and they did. They wanted answers.

One wonders why they didn’t do this when the team was in the second division for the four years previous to their promotion, but oh, well.

It turns out, though, that the team has no affiliation with the casino company other than it being its main sponsor. Did I mention that the team’s president is Hank's son, 24 year-old Jorge Alberto Hank Inzunza? In fact, the company that owns Xolos is called Servicios Profesionales de Operación S.A. de C.V. (Professional Operation Services, Inc.). It’s kinda like having lunch at XYZ Industries.

Some of you know what I am talking about.

Thank goodness. The FMF need not worry anymore. If multiple team ownnership, and a shady "draft" doesn't bother them, ownership heavily involved in games of chance shouldn't be an issue, right?

Besides, it is not as if Xolos is the only team affiliated with betting. Televisa also wets their beak in the gaming industry.

Questionable affiliations aside, Xolos is in a good spot. Tijuana has been thirsting for top-flight futbol for years, they have a great facility, a front office that has committed to staying and competing in the first division, and a massive market on the other side of the border.

It looks like later this summer, ballin’ in Tijuana will have a new meaning.

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Eben Lehman of FMFstateofmind.com wrote this fantastic piece about the Xolo experience.