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Joe Corona Reflects on Xolos' Rise & His Trajectory

Jurgen Klinsmann caught many off-guard when he named the 23-year-old Club Tijuana midfielder to his provisional World Cup roster. Corona, however, was not shocked by the call-up.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 21, 2014
9:00 AM
THREE YEARS AGO on May 21, 2011, Club Tijuana defeated Irapuato 2-1 in the promotional playoff to clinch a spot in Liga MX. Joe Corona, a young American player of Mexican and Salvadoran descent, scored the winning goal that day, lifting the then-four-year-old club to the Mexican top flight in impressive fashion.

Since that date, good fortunes have followed both Corona and Club Tijuana. In 2012, the Xolos won the Liga MX Apertura and enjoyed a run to the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals in 2013. The club continues to draw well and has expanded its stadium. Even more impressive, the Xolos now enjoy tremendous popularity on the American side of the boarder, which improves its prospects of eventually joining the ranks as one of Mexico’s big clubs.

Corona’s rise has been just as striking. Never recognized as an elite prospect, Corona's stature began to improve with Tijuana's success. He played an important part of the club's Apetura title and Libertadores run, and after flirting with Mexico’s U-22 team prior to the Pan-Am games, he switched his allegiance to the United States and hasn’t looked back.

As U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann prepared to announce his 30-man preliminary roster for the 2014 World Cup, most pundits didn't give Corona much of a chance. The 23-year-old midfielder, however, was not shocked to hear that he would be joining the U.S. national team in Palo Alto, Calif.

“When I found out, I was with my family and very excited when I saw the list,” Corona told American Soccer Now. “I knew it was going to be a tough choice for Klinsmann but I knew that anything could happen. I was excited and I had a lot of hope and faith that I would called up."

"To be honest," he added, "I always felt a lot of confidence from Jurgen Klinsmann. I was playing well with my club and I was in a good rhythm. I wasn’t surprised to make the list. I’m excited now and it’s a huge opportunity. Hopefully I can take advantage of it.”

Whether or not Corona makes the final 23-man roster will now depend on how he performs in camp and in the friendlies against Azerbaijan and Turkey. Part of the reason why his inclusion into the preliminary roster came as a surprise to some is that it has been a long time since Corona played for the national team.

Corona started in the 2013 Gold Cup final last July in a 1-0 win over Panama. The following month he made the trip to Sarajevo for the U.S's 4-3 win over Bosnia. In September he was a late addition to the roster for the World Cup qualifier against Mexico but did not play. Since then: nothing.

Corona says that the primary reason for the long absence involves club commitments with the Xolos, which was heavily involved in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“Of course I missed it,” Corona said his time away from the U.S. “Any opportunity you get to play with the national team, it’s a different level and it’s always fun. It’s an honor to represent your country. Even though I wasn’t getting called up, I had a lot of chances with my club. Those were most of the reasons why I wasn’t getting called up with the national team—like the friendly against Mexico.”

Now in camp, Corona believes he can make a strong case for the final roster thanks to his versatility in the midfield. Naturally right footed, Corona featured mostly on the left side of the midfield this past season. And Tijuana coach Cesar Farias has given Corona a great deal of freedom to cut inside in the attack and play the No.10 role.

So as Club Tijuana celebrates the third anniversary of perhaps the biggest goal in club history, Corona is reflective about—and grateful for—his time at the club.

“It’s exciting to see all this,” Corona said. “I’ve had an opportunity to see how much [the team] grew in such little time. It’s exciting how you see a lot change in the city. Tijuana had a bad reputation but now with a first-division soccer team in Xolos, it’s amazing how much has changed and how many people commute to Mexico to come watch us play."

"I love this club and I love this city. Everything has gone well lately.”

“I’ve come a long way with Tijuana and it’s the club that opened the doors for me at the professional level and I’m very thankful for that,” he added. “I feel that I’m representing the club, San Diego, Tijuana, and most importantly, the United States.”

Do you think Corona will make the U.S. 23-man roster? And have you created your own team with our custom-built drag-and-drop tool?

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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