Postcard from Mexico: Tijuana newcomers feel at home

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Americans Edgar Castillo and Greg Garza may not be at the same stage of their careers, but both have surprisingly similar goals for this season.

Castillo is at his sixth club in Mexico, and is hoping to stay long term in Tijuana after his six-month loan from Club América ends this summer. Garza, on the other hand, is just hoping to earn a spot with the Xolos after impressing enough on trial to earn a contract.

Both are settling in well after their recent moves to high-flying Club Tijuana, with each eyeing a return to national team consideration and some consistency for their respective careers.

“To tell you the truth, Tijuana is a good club, they treat you well and I feel at home,” Castillo told MLSsoccer.com ahead of his team's victory over Chivas last week. “I feel happy. I hope to do things well in Club Tijuana and have them buy me from Club América. That's my goal.”

So far, the 25-year-old has started all three matches this season playing as a wing back – Club Tijuana coach Antonio Mohamed tends to play with three central defenders – and has been in fine form, which he puts down to regular playing time, sparking talk in the press of a national team recall.

But Castillo (right) isn’t preoccupied with working his way back into the US picture, although he admits that assistant coach Martin Vasquez has been in contact and word is Jurgen Klinsmann may be traveling down to Tijuana to watch some games soon.

“I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing and trying to do things better and to be at that level that I was at in Santos Laguna,” he said.

Joining Castillo over the offseason was US U-20 Garza, a Grapevine, Texas, native who impressed in a winter trial and was subsequently snapped up, causing a further spike in interest in the club north of the border. Los Angeles-born Joe Corona is also in the Xolos first-team squad.

Like Castillo, Garza has found transitioning to life in Tijuana a fairly simple proposition.

“I'm very happy,” the 20-year-old told MLSsoccer.com last week. “I feel very comfortable with the team. They’ve really helped me the few weeks I’ve been here.”

The three Americans in the first-team squad – Corona, Garza and Castillo – enjoy a good relationship as well, although the other players jokingly refer them as, fittingly, "the gringos.”

“It’s a very good atmosphere. We joke around in English, Spanish, Spanglish, everything,” laughed Garza, who has already picked up nicknames like "Canelo" (after the fair-haired Mexican boxer) and "Mini-Rooney" during his first few weeks in Mexico.

Garza debuted for Club Tijuana in their first game of the season against Morelia, coming on in the 72nd minute and impressing, but he hasn't been given the opportunity since, perhaps partly because of Castillo’s scintillating form.

The Texan spent the majority of the past four years in Portugal and has been involved with the national team system since he was 14, but he was left out of the most recent US U-23 camp in Carson, Calif. Needless to say, like Castillo, he is determined to get back into consideration for call-ups.

“I'm in the pool, but it is whatever is most important for the country,” Garza said. “Hopefully I’ll get a call pretty soon; I’ll just keep working hard and see what happens.”

For Garza, this summer's London Olympics represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” while Castillo is desperate to be that player who nails down the left back spot for the USMNT.

For both, performing well for the Xolos is an essential prerequisite. It helps that settling in Tijuana has come easily for both, especially since family can easily visit the border town. That's in addition to the growing number of supporters coming south from the US to see games, something that has surprised both of them.

“There are a lot of people on social networks from San Diego that support the club, and that's wonderful,” said Garza. “I think the club is really trying to make a connection there. It is so close to the border.”

Added Castillo: “Last game, I was going back to the hotel [where he's set up shop], and the American border was packed.”

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.