GUADALAJARA, Mexico – In two short years, Joe Corona has gone from playing on dusty pitches in the third division of Mexican soccer to helping Club Tijuana win promotion to the top flight, being named the best rookie of the Primera División and being singled out by name by Jurgen Klinsmann for his play in a US national team jersey.
Not a bad two years' work for the 21-year-old.
“It's been crazy, I've been through a lot in such little time,” the San Diegan reflected to MLSsoccer.com over the phone from Mexico City on Wednesday. “I think it's all due to hard work, keeping my head straight and my goals where I want.”
The statement says a lot about the laid-back, soft-spoken attacker. There is steeliness about him despite his relaxed demeanor and, most importantly, a work ethic that lives up to his much-lauded talent.
Corona's ascent has been so steep that it's highly likely his name will be floated when Klinsmann considers his senior national team squad when the US open World Cup qualifying in June.
Not that Corona is worrying about such things. He wasn't even aware that Klinsmann had singled out his positive play in the US Under-23s' ill-fated pre-Olympic tournament.
While desperately disappointed at not making the London Games, Corona is happy with his performances, starting all three games for the US and scoring four goals.
“Even though we didn't qualify, I felt personally I had a good tournament and I think I gained a lot of confidence from that,” he explained.
That resolve was put to the test in the immediate aftermath of the US' disastrous final game, the 3-3 draw with El Salvador that saw La Selecta advance past the Americans into the semifinals despite Corona's would-be winner.
Corona had to put up with a torrent of abuse on Twitter from gloating Salvadoran fans, who thought Corona – who was eligible to join their ranks due to his mother being born in El Salvador – had chosen the wrong side.
The Southern Californian didn't take the bait and was already Tweeting the morning after about keeping his head up and helping Tijuana reach the playoffs.
While Corona's national team situation and recent success with the US have brought him the most interest from the media, his performances for Tijuana have been the building blocks of the success he has enjoyed in his fledgling career.
Over the last two years, Corona has grown slowly but surely with the Xolos, to a point where both are on the brink of making the playoffs for the first time and fighting for the Primera División championship.
That was a distant probability even a year ago, when Tijuana were in still in Mexico's second division. A win away against Jaguares on Friday would go a long way to securing Tijuana's first-ever playoff spot in first-division play.
“It's a whole different tournament," Corona mused, "the atmosphere is incredible and it's something that I want to live through."
He is fast becoming an essential part of Club Tijuana, but coach Antonio Mohamed has told the young forward that, while he has bags of talent, he has to keep pushing himself.
“He really thinks I'm capable of making a difference in the squad and being a key part of Xolos,” said Corona. “He tells me, 'I know the quality you have, that's why I ask more from you. If you were a regular player, I wouldn't be like that with you.'”
Anyone who saw Corona's goal against Atlante last weekend witnessed a glimpse of that quality. Corona brought a cross under control and volleyed home in one swift movement to get what turned out to be the winning goal.
It was perhaps his best goal since debuting in Mexico's Primera División and a timely reminder, if anyone needed it, that Corona is a young American with a big future.
“I'm living the dream right now,” he said.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.