GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Edgar Castillo is back.
Want some evidence? Watch replays of nearly any Club Tijuana game this season. The trickery, pace and cunning movement of the American has been a consistent menace to opposition teams.
Castillo's performances have inevitably led to calls from some quarters about the possibility of a return to US national team for the upcoming friendlies later this month and it is something that is clearly motivating the New Mexico native.
“I'm still dreaming of getting called up again and going to the qualifying games,” Castillo told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “First qualifying, then the World Cup.”
Jurgen Klinsmann's coaching team is watching, Castillo acknowledged, and has been in contact.
If Castillo, who can play anywhere on the left side of the pitch, does get a call-up, it will be under very different circumstances to when he last appeared for the USMNT.
Castillo won his last cap against Costa Rica in early September last year, but completed the 90 minutes having started just seven times at club level in the previous 12 months.
Things have changed enormously since then. Since joining Club Tijuana in December, he has started every single league game los Xolos have played (a total of 18), making him the only outfield player at the club to have done so.
Last Sunday in the Estadio Caliente, the usually reserved Castillo even led a pregame pep talk before the vital clash against Pumas UNAM, with the other players huddled around listening attentively.
“I've been taking a little bit of leadership here and feeling good,” said Castillo. “The people have been happy with my performance, and that's good.”
In sum, Castillo is happy on and off the pitch and makes no bones about showing it.
“To tell you the truth, I'm very happy here,” he said. “I'm happy with the guys that brought me here, happy with coach Turco [Mohamed], happy with my teammates and my family is happy here.”
Still only 25 years old, Castillo told MLSsoccer.com back when he signed on loan for Tijuana that his goal was to reach the kind of form that saw him suddenly thrust into the limelight as an 19-year-old producing scintillating displays for Santos Laguna.
Is he back to that level?
“I think I'm nearly there," he said, "I'm getting there."
Castillo's situation at Club Tijuana is to be resolved after the team's playoff run, which the veteran of seven Mexican first-division clubs is hoping can be extended beyond the quarterfinals, despite needing a two-goal victory at Monterrey on Saturday, following Wednesday night's 2-1 loss at the Estadio Caliente.
“We've played better outside our home and we can play a good game there,” reasoned Castillo, whose rights still belong to Club América. “I know we have to win by two goals and it's not going to be easy, but we can do it. We're still in it.”
On Wednesday, Castillo was charged with stopping Monterrey right winger César Delgado and had to tame his attacking instinct slightly more than usual.
However, those who have watched him regularly this season will be under little illusion as to what a potentially valuable asset the penetration down the left an in-form Castillo, however he is used, could offer the US, especially in difficult qualifying games against the teams in CONCACAF that are notoriously difficult to break down.
And though it may be light years away in the perspective of Castillo's up-and-down career, it's impossible to ignore how much an August trip to the Estadio Azteca for the US' friendly with Mexico would mean to Castillo, who briefly suited up for El Tri.
“Wow,” he said, running through that possibility in his mind. “That would mean a lot playing in Mexico, against Mexico in the Azteca. That would be a dream for me.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.