American Exports: Tijuana reach top, claim Liga MX title

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Four years ago, they weren’t even in the top flight. But on Sunday, Club Tijuana became champions.

American trio Edgar CastilloJoe Corona and Greg Garza all picked up Liga MX winners medals on Sunday night after the Xolos defeated Toluca 2-0 in the Estadio Nemesio Díez to claim the 2012 Apertura title.

The victory handed Tijuana a 4-1 aggregate lead in the final series and secured the border club’s first ever league title after an historic season. The club only formed in 2007 and has since gained support from both sides of the border.

Castillo (above, right) won his second Mexican first-division title – the other coming in the Clausura 2008 with Santos Laguna – and went the full 90 minutes in the second leg of the final, and all 180 for the home-and-home series.

The Las Cruces, N.M., native was much more solid at left back than in the first leg and commentators on Mexican TV praised his performance, as well as the revival of a floundering career since he joined Tijuana a little less than a year ago.

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It was the 22nd clean sheet in 50 league games for Tijuana under coach Antonio Mohamed, with Castillo playing left back in the vast majority of those matches. The US international nearly opened the scoring in the 49th minute, striking a shot from 25 yards that forced a fine save from Toluca ‘keeper Alfredo Talavera.

Corona (above, left), meanwhile, retained his starting place for the most important game of his short career and was busy on the left of the central midfield trio. He didn’t make the same impact going forward as in the first leg, but kept possession well.

The 22-year-old certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by the occasion and pinged a couple of delightful long through balls in the second half before being taken off in the 67th.

Garza didn’t participate in the second leg due to a nagging ankle injury, but was on hand to pick up his medal after appearing in eight games this season and scoring two vital goals.

In Mexico’s Under-20 final on Saturday, 18-year-old Texan Joaquin Hernandez was crowned champion with Monterrey, coming on for the last eight minutes of his team’s 3-0 victory over Morelia. Ernest Nungaray went the full 90 minutes for the Monarcas.

In Venezuela, Diego Restrepo kept another clean sheet for Deportivo Táchira away against reigning champions Deportivo Lara. The game finished 0-0 with Táchira holding on for over 70 minutes with 10 men after an early red card.

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.