GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Edgar Castillo has walked the line more times than he cares to count in his young career. Once, he was a young up-and-comer in both the Mexican top flight and the Mexican national team.
Then he was a pariah, leaving El Tri behind and re-declaring for the national team of the US, the country of his birth.
Since then, it’s been another tightrope walk of alternately finding the right club situation and being forced to seek other opportunities. Add to that his in-and-out status and mixed performances with the USMNT, and it’s been quite an unstable half-decade for the 25-year-old left back.
But Castillo knows living in the past isn’t the answer. It’s been three long years since his breakout at Santos Laguna and a lot has happened since. If breaking back into Jurgen Klinsmann’s camp is his ultimate goal, he knows he needs to perform to the best of his abilities with his new employers, Club Tijuana.
“I lived [my] best moments in Santos,” Castillo admitted to MLSsoccer.com via phone from Tijuana on Wednesday, “but I’m hoping to live them here in Tijuana, too.”
The Las Cruces, N.M., native became Tijuana’s first signing of the offseason, signing a loan deal from Club América last month. He admits the fresh start is what he needed, and he is already adapting well to life in the border city and feeling good at his new club.
“I’m happy [in Tijuana],” he said. “It’s close to San Diego. … I have aunts and uncles there.”
On the field, Castillo – now with his sixth Mexican team – is confident he still has what it takes, despite the inconsistency of recent seasons.
“I think I have to just be ready and do some things that I haven’t done,” he explained. “I have to be confident playing and not just play six games and then disappear for another six games.”
The last six months alone have provided plenty of ups and downs for Castillo. Back in August, Castillo was on the up. His coach at Club América, Carlos Reinoso, wanted him to stay at the club and he was a regular starter for las Águilas early in the season.
Then came the call-up for Klinsmann’s first game in charge against Mexico, when Castillo admits that he was slightly nervous. Another two call-ups to US squads came, before “el Homie” pulled his hamstring.
“Everything was going good with Reinoso,” he recalled. “I was playing, I was in the national team. But then once I got hurt, I couldn’t get back into the starting squad because I was out for a month-and-a-half. After that, when you don’t get results, the coach gets fired.”
Castillo says he just didn’t fit with the replacement coach, Alfredo Tena, and wanted out at the end of the season.
“I talked to the board and I said that if there’s a chance for me to leave, that would be a good change,” said Castillo. “I guess América didn’t want to sell me; Tijuana gave them an offer, but they said no. I’m here on loan for six months with an option to buy me. If not, another six months.”
The decision by Club América not to sell Castillo is probably the same underlying reason why national team coaches such as Sven-Göran Eriksson, Hugo Sánchez, Bob Bradley and Klinsmann have all called him up: his potential.
But just how important is it to Castillo to pull on that Stars and Stripes jersey once again?
“Oh, it’s important,” he stressed. “I’m very happy that Klinsmann called me in a couple of times. I’ve been hurt and haven’t gotten called again, but I’ve just been trying to get back to be called up. It’d be a dream for me [to play] at that level.”
Down in Mexico, the fact that he played for El Tri before switching to the US in 2009 may never be forgotten or forgiven, at least by some. If you mention the name Edgar Castillo south of the border, most will come back at you with some sarcastic form of, “Oh, that guy.”
Castillo says the resentment is still very much present and showed its head during the friendly between Mexico and the United States back in August in Philadelphia.
“They were saying I was a traitor, that I gave up Mexico to play for the US,” he lamented.
Does that fuel him? Probably. You get the feeling that Castillo would like nothing better than to have an opportunity to make an impact the next time the US and Mexico face off.
But if his experiences have taught him anything, it’s that the quickest route to the national team is consistency at the club level. To that end, Castillo’s Clausura 2012 with Tijuana promises to be a pivotal one in the left back’s career.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.