CORONA EYES BREAKTHROUGH
A little more than a year ago, Joe Corona had no international experience and his only professional games were in the second tier of Mexican soccer.
A lot has changed for Corona since then as he is now a member of the U.S. national team and a regular contributor to the first place team in Liga Mx.
"It's been a fast growth," Corona told YA. "I'm very happy and very fortunate to experience so many things in such a little time. I feel that coming in here with the national team is a privilege. It's something that not every player achieves. It's an honor to keep progressing the way I have. It all comes with hard work and faith. I always try to stay humble."
The US team is currently in a tie with Guatemala for first place of Group A in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. They are set to take on Guatemala in Kansas City in the final game of group play and need at least a draw to advance. A loss, however, could eliminate the Americans.
Corona is excited to be part of the team for the crucial game and he is adamant that the team is confident despite a lackluster 2-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night on a rain drenched field in the Caribbean.
"The team has a lot of confidence," Corona said. "We know we have to take care of business. We're not overconfident. We're not thinking about not qualifying. Everyone knows what we have to do to keep on going. The team is good and there is a good environment. I'm happy to have another callup so it motivates me to keep working and try to get some playing time."
That playing time has been hard so for Corona who has earned consistent callups to the U.S. national team since the five game series in May and June that included the start of 2014 World Cup qualifying. Corona has not started any of the games but has come off the bench for friendlies.
Despite feeling most comfortably as a central midfielder, with the national team Klinsmann prefers to play Corona mostly out wide on the right side. Corona still tries to cut into the middle when he can but it is still not the same position he plays for his club.
Corona, however, believes he is making progress with in the U.S. national team and is not far away from contributing consistently.
"Every callup I feel closer to that," Corona said. "I have more confidence every time I come in. Getting along with the players is very important and I have a very good relationship with all of them and the coaches. It's just a matter of time, being patient, and taking advantage of the chance once it comes."
Corona, 22, is solidly behind the U.S. team but there was a time when he was conflicted over which national team he would represent. Last August, he was set to accept a callup from former head coach Bob Bradley to the U.S. national team for a game against Mexico. Before the roster was announced, Bradley was fired and new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann did not select him.
Shortly afterward, Corona accepted a callup to play for Mexico's U-22 team in the run up to the Pan American games.
Eventually, Corona returned to the United States through the U-23 team where he was a key player for former coach Caleb Porter. While that team was unsuccessful in qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, Corona enjoyed the experience and appreciated US Soccer's interest in him.
"I was raised in the US," Corona stated frankly. "I still live in the US. I always follow the team. They were the ones more interested when I came into the Olympic team. I have a very good relationship with the team and the staff. I felt that this is where I was supposed to be. I feel at home. Playing with the US has been an honor."
One of the reasons why Corona is earning consistent callups to the United States is because of his play for Club Tijuana who is currently in first place in Liga Mx in just their second season after earning promotion.
While many people in Mexico have been taken by surprise by Tijuana's accent, Corona is not. In fact he believes that the club will be in contention for the title this year.
"The table speaks for itself," Corona said confidently. "It's not a coincidence. I think we have a very good team. We can't get ahead that much. We're thinking about qualifying for the playoffs and that's our next objective. People around us don't believe us but as long as we have in mind what we want to do and accomplish, that's all that matters."
"I'm not surprised we are where we are," he added. "The team works very hard - every practice, every game. Hard work pays off."
Club Tijuana's ownership and management are very public about their ambition to be not just one of the strongest teams in Mexico but also one of the strongest teams in the Western Hemisphere. In doing so they see the American market in nearby San Diego and all of California as the key towards building a passionate fanbase that can rival other clubs in Mexico.
Currently, they have been very successful in capturing this market as the border crossings are often crowded during their games. For Corona, he sees that the American nature of the club's fans is reflected in how the team is run. He believes that this American culture is an important part of the team's success the past two years.
"I feel that Tijuana is very Americanized since it's so close to the border," Corona explained. "They're a very ambitious team. They want to be one of the best teams in Mexico - that's for sure. I feel that they've been very well organized over a short time. It's Americanized so it has a different way of thinking than other Mexican clubs. That's one of the reasons why they've progressed so much in such a short period of time."
Corona very much takes pride in being an American on a team that aims to represent part of the country he represents internationally. In fact, Corona was raised in San Diego and attended San Diego State where he played NCAA soccer.
He still lives in San Diego and commutes everyday across the border to Tijuana's practice and games. As a long time native of the city, has seen the growth of the club and is happy to see its enormous presence where he grew up.
"You can ask everyone in San Diego; it feels like the local team," Corona concluded. " You walk around San Diego and they're people that recognize me and say hello. It feels good to be part of a team that is big both sides of the border."