Everyone loves an underdog

Xolos fans

The term ‘football hipster’ is increasingly creeping into modern footballing parlance despite what feels like an apparent tide of unilateral unpopularity.  Poured scorn upon by bread&butter types and niche experts alike, it seems that the main grievance stems from a hipster’s preference for style over substance, a smokescreen for any true football knowledge or passionate local commitment.

Perhaps it’s just a by-product of the changing nature of fandom.  Your typical football fan is more aware than they have ever been before and, aided by social media and dodgy streams, is now able to follow previously unchartered leagues and regions from around the footballing world.  And, as the consistently excellent Nicol Hay wrote recently, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

For many, an interest in South American futbol is often seen as a clear calling card of a football hipster.  But these days is just a love for the Superclásico still sufficient for the Dortmund-clad Bielsistas to stand out from their hipster peers?

In recent years there have been a couple of notable examples, primarily Universidad de Chile under Jorge Sampaoli as they romped to the 2011 Sudamericana title in spectacular fashion.  But with much of that team dismantled and Sampaoli now in charge of the national team, La U are a shadow of their high-intensity former incarnation and disappointingly crashed out at the group stages of this year’s Libertadores, albeit from a very tough group.

So, with said Libertadores now at the knock out stages, which up and coming clubs should any budding hipster throw their weight behind this season if they are to really prove that their finger is firmly on the pulse?

One such club is Club Tijuana – Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente to give them their full title – who have made an impressive start to their debut Libertadores campaign.  Xolos were one of the first clubs to qualify for the knock-out stages, collecting 13 points (4 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss) and finishing second in their group only on goal difference to reigning world champions Corinthians, who they also impressively beat 1-0 at home.

It has been an incredible journey for the Mexican club, only formed in 2006, as they won their first ever Mexican championship last year to qualify for the Libertadores.  With the nickname of a cool hairless dog possessing mystic Aztec qualities and the troubled backstory of the club’s hometown ongoing struggle against drug wars and US border issues, Xolos have some key ingredients to attract the attention of inquisitive trendsetters.

Xolos

Not only that but they also actually have a pretty decent squad too. Veterans Leandro Augusto and Fernando Arce bring the experience, while Neymar-lookalike Fidel Martinez brings the flair and Colombian striker Duiver Riascos provides the main goal threat.  Furthermore, the contingent of US internationals Jose Corona and Edgar Castillo is fitting given their proximity to their neighbours and perhaps represents a growing potential in Mexican football to expand north as well as the increasing latino presence within the US national team.

In the round of 16 they face Brazilian side Palmeiras – relegated from the Brasileirao last season – and, with the score 0-0 after the first leg, stand a good chance of making it to the quarters and perhaps even further.

But with success comes endorsement and wider praise. And there is nothing that riles a hipster as much as Adrian Chiles extolling the virtues of their club du jour.  Not even spilling an avocado, dulse and chickpea salad on their new brogues!

What they are really after is a club that provides fleeting moment of ultimately unfulfilled glory before returning to obscurity. Real Garcilaso may just well be that club. 

Formed just four years ago by a group of students, the unfancied team from Cusco became the first Peruvian side to make the knock out stages since Alianza Lima and Universitario back in 2010.  Named after poet-solider El Inca Garcilaso and with backpacker favourite Machu Picchu looming nearby, they tick some crucial boxes in a hipster’s checklist. 

Nevertheless, under the guidance of Fredy Garcia these young upstarts also provide a fresh, invigorating approach in a country whose domestic league has been hamstrung by debt and corruption. As pointed out by Nick Dorrington, far from being a mere flash in the pan sensation Garcilaso could well be on the cusp of becoming a new force in Peruvian football.  

Real Garcilaso

Up against Nacional in the Round of 16, La Fuerza Celeste held their nerve to beat the Uruguayan giants on penalties after a 1-1 draw on aggregate and make a historic quarter final appearance.  It now remains to be seen how far their fairy tale maiden cup run will go.

Sure, a Ronaldinho-inspired Atletico Mineiro would be tempting, the lure of Riquelme at Boca hard to ignore, even the irony of supporting Andre Santos at Gremio tantalising, but for a hipster football fan truly wanting to cement their South American credibility – or just anyone who loves an underdog – then Xolos and Garcilaso offer bonafide alternatives to remaining one step ahead of the crowd.  They may not win the damn thing, but who really wants that anyway?

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