STANFORD, Calif. – All through the 2014 World Cup cycle, Joe Corona was surrounded by colleagues from Liga MX, fellow Americans playing south of the border who were helping the US national team on the road to Brazil.
Now the World Cup is a month away, and he’s one of the only ones left. The Club Tijuana attacker and three-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley were the only Liga MX representatives named by Jurgen Klinsmann to his 30-man preliminary roster for World Cup camp at Stanford University.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Corona admitted to reporters before USMNT training on Sunday. “There were a couple players that were in the process of World Cup qualifying, and when I saw it was only me and DaMarcus, I was surprised. I was happy to be one of them.”
From the moment Klinsmann took the US gig, he spoke of his admiration for Mexican soccer and how the Liga MX influence on his US set-up would be key moving into 2014.
As recently as last July, he said, “You see their influence on the field and off the field. They are focused and hungry. They live in an environment where they are accountable for what they are doing because it’s a soccer crazy environment south of the border, and we benefit from that.”
As many as half a dozen Liga MX representatives have been involved regularly in World Cup qualifying and in last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup championship-winning squad: Beasley, Corona, Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco and Herculez Gomez.
But in the end, Corona said, it probably came down to position battles. He and Torres play similar roles for their clubs, while Orozco was the odd man out in a heated battle at center back. Gomez, a veteran of the 2010 World Cup, has seen his minutes shrink at Club Tijuana.
Perhaps most surprising to Corona, though, was the omission of his club teammate Castillo. The 27-year-old made eight appearances at left back for the US in 2013, including four in the final round of World Cup qualifying. He also wrapped a successful season at Tijuana, making 15 starts in the just-completed Clausura season.
“Edgar, I’m real close to and he was bummed that he didn’t come,” Corona said. “I was, too. But like I said, it was all about hard decisions here and who Jurgen thought was the best fit.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.