GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo believe they are capable of a major upset in the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals.
Club Tijuana were 2-0 up as they flew out of the blocks in the first leg at home last week against Brazil's Atlético Mineiro, but Ronaldinho & Co. got back into the game and came away with a slightly fortunate 2-2 result in the Estadio Caliente.
Now Tijuana need to win in Belo Horizonte or secure at least a 2-2 draw against the favorites on Thursday (9 pm ET, Fox Deportes) to advance to the semifinals against Boca Juniors or Newell's Old Boys.
“We’re still alive,” left back Castillo told reporters in Tijuana last week. “We’re confident, we just have to score one goal and not get scored on. We just have to play a good game.”
Rather than being overawed by playing against one of the greatest players in world football over recent years, Castillo believes facing Ronaldinho actually inspires him and his team, and Xolos certainly weren’t distracted last week, when they were the best team for large swathes of the first leg.
Both Americans will fly up from São Paulo to Washington, D.C., after the Libertadores tie, but are unlikely to be ready in time for the US national team’s game against Germany on Sunday (2:30 pm ET, ESPN2/UniMas).
Once in the US capital, Corona says he is desperate to transfer his club form into making his mark at national team level.
“I’ve been called up several times and I think it’s my time to shine,” he explained. “Hopefully I’ll get some minutes and I’ll do my best.”
Corona’s club position has shifted slightly this season, from a winger or No. 10 when he first broke into the Xolos first team, to the most attacking of a midfield trio over recent months. The 22-year-old says he’s got more comfortable as time has gone on and is enjoying his new role, although knows that it could have repercussions for his national team career.
“[US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann] uses a 4-4-2, so there isn’t really that position,” said Corona. “Whenever I go [to US camp], I do my best and tuck into the middle, but I have to do whatever he wants me to do.
Thursday’s game represents an end of an era at Club Tijuana, with coach Antonio Mohamed almost certain to be leaving the club – even if there has been no official statement from Xolos.
For both Americans, the Argentine coach that took the club from relegation strugglers to one of the Liga MX best sides has left a deep impression.
“I became like I was [with] Santos here,” said Castillo, who won his first title with the Guerreros back in 2008. “We’ve been doing good things, winning the championship and now, [playing in] the Copa Libertadores, so I have to thank [Mohamed] for all the good stuff happening in my career.”
Added Corona: “I respect him in every way, as a person and as a coach. He’s left something good not just in me, but in every player.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.