GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Joe Corona got only 22 minutes of field time during the US national team's recently completed five-match swing. But he got the personal endorsement that he'd been waiting for from the man in charge.
“He told me that I did pretty well,” Corona told MLSsoccer.com about his conversation with manager Jurgen Klinsmann as camp came to a close. “He knows now that he has seen that I can play with those guys and I think I got a lot of experience out of it.”
There could be no bigger boost for a 21-year-old after his first senior national team camp, which resulted in his first cap in the 5-1 friendly win over Scotland last month. That came on the back of a standout performance for the US Under-23 team despite their failed Olympic bid. Corona's four goals over three games surely gave Klinsmann reason to be optimistic over the youngster.
But the words of encouragement haven't just stopped with the coach. Some other big names have stressed to Corona that he should have confidence in his own ability.
“I was rooming with Landon [Donovan] for 10 days and we'd talk a lot,” he continued. “He'd help me out and tell me not to be afraid, to get confident and go at defenders. There were a lot of players that helped me out a lot and gave me more confidence and motivation to keep working and hopefully earn myself a spot in the [national team]."
The challenge for Corona now is to ride that momentum back into his club career. The Mexican Primera División best rookie of the Apertura 2011 has now returned to preseason training with Club Tijuana and has his sights firmly fixed on nailing down a starting spot for the upcoming Apertura 2012, with the hope it will lead to more minutes with the USMNT.
And despite all the words of praise and encouragement that will keep him hungry to keep progressing, it is perhaps the constructive criticism from Klinsmann that echoes most his ears.
“One of the things he said is that maybe sometimes I have to be a bit more physical,” explained Corona.
And thus the former San Diego State player, who only 13 months ago was playing in Mexico's second division, returns to Tijuana with a mission.
To continue impressing Klinsmann and earn minutes in a World Cup qualifier, Corona would likely need to cement a starting place in a Xolos squad that has been vastly improved in the attacking third over the offseason. Four forwards have been added, including much-hyped Ecuadorian winger Fidel Martínez.
Not that Corona is down about the potential scrap for starting places at Tijuana.
“I know a lot of good players came into the team, so that will make internal competition a little tougher," he admitted. "But ... that's something exciting, a challenge for me and I'm excited to come into preseason."
On the horizon as well is for the US national team is a match at Estadio Azteca on Aug. 15 against Mexico, a game that would in some ways complete a nice circle in the career of Corona, who made a brief appearance for Mexico's U-22 squad last year.
But Corona isn't taking any future call-ups for granted and realizes he earns his bread with Tijuana.
“I know that with good performances, I can keep getting called up into the men's national team,” Corona added, which is something which many US fans would love to see happen."
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.