Xolos' Oxnard camp prods Yanks' paths

Club Tijuana's Joe Corona has Olympic aspirations. German Alegria/Club Tijuana

OXNARD -- Joe Corona celebrated the end of his participation in Club Tijuana's Ventura County training camp with a goal. Edgar Castillo gave his new team a solid 90 minutes.

And a nearly full stadium at Channel Islands High School got a nice glimpse of the Xolos, who have one major assignment -- stay in the top division -- when the Mexican Primera Division's Clausura campaign begins next month.

Tijuana routed a select side from the Ventura County United Soccer Leagues, 5-0, in a friendly Wednesday night, the Xolos' second game of the day as their weeklong camp in Oxnard neared its finish. That's it for Corona, who was set to fly early Thursday morning to Florida for the U.S. under-23 national team's camp.

“It's a good opportunity. It's something I'm really looking forward to,” said Corona, 21, who was born in Los Angeles, grew up in San Diego and left San Diego State following his freshman year to sign with Tijuana. “The Olympics, not a lot of people are fortunate to go. Hopefully, I can be part of that.”

This is the second camp for Corona with the U23s, who are preparing for CONCACAF's qualifiers, in March, for next year's London Olympics, and it follows a camp with Mexico's U22s, the foundation of El Tri's Olympic side. He's eligible for both countries -- and El Salvador -- and it looked like he would be playing for Mexico after U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, right after his hiring at the end of July, rescinded an invitation from former coach Bob Bradley.

Klinsmann prefers to bring young talent along through the youth national teams, such as the U23s, and Corona's experience with the Mexican squad boosted his U.S. desires. He was part of the first U23 camp during Klinsmann's regime, last month in Germany, and is among 30 players U.S. U23 coach Caleb Porter has summoned to Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

“I first had a call-up for Mexico. Unfortunately, I didn't have as much playing time,” Corona said. “I didn't feel that they took me seriously. That's why I chose to take a shot at the U.S. national team, see how it goes.

“My last call-up, in Germany, went well, and I played in both games. I thought it was a great experience. Hopefully, it keeps going.”

Corona has great promise. He's played up front and on the flanks for Tijuana, but Antonio Mohamed, who took charge in September, midway through the fall Apertura championship, has used him as an attacking midfielder, his natural post.

He gave a vibrant performance at Channel Islands, punctuating it with a strike in the 27th minute, about a minute after Ismael Iñiquez gave the Xoloitzcuintles an advantage. Dayro Moreno, Miguel Almazan and Alejandro Molina added second-half goals.

Tijuana beat the Ventura County Fusion, 3-0, in a closed-door game earlier Wednesday at Oxnard College, with Raul Enriquez, Iñiquez and Armando Pulido scoring goals.

CASTILLO'S AIM: Castillo, 25, a Las Cruces, N.M., product who has arrived on loan from Mexico City giant America, was strong in 90 minutes at left back against the VCUSL side, which was made up of players ages 16 to 24.

Castillo is looking for a permanent move to Tijuana -- and a return to the U.S. national team, after going 90 minutes in each of Klinsmann's first two matches, an Aug. 10 draw with Mexico in Philadelphia and the Sept. 2 loss to Costa Rica at Home Depot Center.

“I have to do a good season,” Castillo said. “I'm here on loan for six months from Club America, and I have to do good these six months so I can stay and have a chance of Tijuana buying me. [And] I'm trying to get back with the national team, trying to get playing time here [to earn another call-up]. That's all I can say.”

Castillo started five of the first eight games in the Apertura for America, but an injury sidelined him for six weeks -- and forced him to turn down Klinsmann for the Yanks' October friendlies -- and a coaching change left him on the sideline when he returned.

“Everything was going good, man,” he said. “Once [Carlos] Reinoso left [dismissed in mid-September after a 2-4-3 start], I was down. I got hurt. I was out for a month and a half, and I couldn't get back. That hurt me a lot. So that's why I had to get out.”

Castillo's loan arrangement arrived after new America coach Miguel Herrera, who replaced Alfredo Tena (who replaced Reinoso), placed the defender on the transfer list. Castillo wants a permanent move.

“I'm feeling good, man,” he said. “The coach, Mohamed, he's the one who brought me. I've got to respond to him, you know. And respond to the guys. I know it's not going to be easy winning a starting spot, so I've got to work hard.”

The Xolos' primary aim for the Clausura is survival. Come May, the bottom team in points-per-game over three full (Apertura and Clausura) seasons will be relegated to the second-tier Liga de Ascenso.

Tijuana won the Liga title last May to claim a Primera Division berth, but it won just six points in the first nine Apertura games, leading to Joaquin Del Olmo's firing. Under Mohamed, the Xolos went 2-0-6 -- 12 points -- and pulled out of the last spot in the “percentages” table that determines relegation, even with Atlas and ahead, just barely, of Estudiantes Tecos.

Tijuana's camp ends Friday, and they've got two ticketed friendlies planned before opening its Clausura campaign Jan. 6 at Morelia. The Xolos face Veracruz on Dec. 21 at Estadio Caliente in Tijuana and Atlante on Dec. 28 at Southwestern College in Chula Vista.