The one that got away
U.S.-born Castillo is earning his stripes -- for Mexico
Posted: Wednesday October 10, 2007 2:33PM; Updated: Wednesday October 10, 2007 2:46PM
LOS ANGELES -- For the first 18 years of his life, Edgar Castillo developed a passion and knack for soccer.
The New Mexico native groomed his game while growing up in Las Cruces and now he's developed into an international-caliber player. Yet his native country isn't reaping the rewards of his rapid development.
Castillo, 21, is with the Mexican national team as El Tri prepares for friendly matches against Nigeria and Guatemala. Although he spent most of the first 18 years of his life in the U.S., Castillo is a fixture on the left side of the defense with Santos Laguna, Mexico's top club this season, and is trying to establish himself with El Tri.
"I wasn't expecting it that soon but it came so that's good, getting called up to the national team with Hugo Sánchez," Castillo told SI.com. When asked about his potential role with the national team, Castillo said he'd like to participate in "[The 2008 Beijing Olympics] and fight for a spot in the [2010 World Cup in South Africa]."
That Castillo isn't playing for the American national team may reveal a flaw in U.S. Soccer's youth-development system, as he fell through the cracks. Despite his quick rise within U.S. Soccer's Olympic Development Program (ODP), Castillo's progress was stalled and he saw Mexico as his only option.
Regardless of the depth the senior team may have, the U.S. isn't in a position to lose homegrown players to foreign countries -- especially Mexico. "Hopefully we can be more proactive in the future and keep our best talent here," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.
To Santos coaches, Castillo came from out of nowhere. When Castillo was 18, he and his younger brother Noel attended an open tryout with the Torreón-based club. Santos quickly snatched up the American-born brothers. Edgar, the older of the two, rose through the ranks quickly and debuted with the first team in the Clausura '06 season.
He played three games that season and three more in the Apertura '06 campaign before breaking through earlier this year. In the Clausura '07 season, Castillo became a fixture with Santos as he logged 1,134 minutes and helped the club avoid relegation and reach the Mexican-league playoffs.
Now, Castillo is a regular with Santos. He has started 11 matches this season and earned a call to the Mexican national team. But within U.S. Soccer's youth system, Castillo said he wasn't actively sought after by American coaches.
"I did ODP," he said. "Made the regional team. Made the national pool when I was 14. I don't know what happened. They just didn't call me for some reason, so I decided to go to Mexico and give it a try and now I'm playing here in Santos."
As far as any future with the U.S., Castillo said that would never happen. "Even if they call, I'm not going to come," he said. "I already told them that I'm staying with Mexico."
Castillo and his brother, who is with Santos' second-division side, aren't the only American-born products plying their trade in Mexico. Teammate Sonny Guadarrama, 20, hails from Austin, Texas, and has played in seven first-division matches over the last three seasons.
San Luis' Michael Orozco, meanwhile, hails from Orange, Calif., and has established himself on los Tuneros' backline, having started eight matches this season.
Castillo, though, is the only one who has earned a cap. He played for Mexico in an Aug. 22 friendly match against Colombia in Denver.
Just how many other similar diamond-in-the-roughs are somewhere in the U.S. is impossible to know, but Bradley said that, "without question," the U.S. national team needs to keep tabs on those players.
While the U.S. has done well to beef up its youth-development system over the last decade, Mexican-Americans are largely not a part of the equation. The only players called into the senior squad in '07 with any sort of Mexican heritage were Carlos Bocanegra, Herculez Gomez and Jonathan Bornstein, this in a year that saw more than 50 players receive a call to the national team.
"The efforts that we see with a club like Chivas USA will help in the future," Bradley said. "I think our developmental academies must reach out, must find a way to include these players, fund these players, to make sure that these players are getting to training every week. There are big challenges."
For his part, though, Bradley said he did have contact with Castillo but was unsure of the youngster's true wishes.
"We did speak with Edgar Castillo," Bradley said. "It's difficult to know once a player is playing with the first team in Mexico what kind of pressure he is getting from that side and to know where we fit in."
Castillo, meanwhile, could create a stir, should he gain some prominence within El Tricolor. Foreign-born national-team players haven't been well received by the Mexican fan base. World Cup veterans Gabriel Caballero, Antonio "Zinha" Naelson and Guillermo Franco each touched off heavy debate in Mexico regarding their place of birth and their inclusion on El Tri.
The difference between those players and Castillo, however, is their heritage: Castillo's parents actually hail from Mexico. Castillo said he hasn't encountered the same problems as the other foreign-born national team players.
"I have dual nationality, so they don't say much," he said. "I come from Mexican parents. I was born here in the U.S. Now that I'm playing over there in Mexico, everything's going good and they're treating me well."
And while Castillo has slammed the door on the U.S. national team, he said he'd be open to playing in MLS because he is an American, after all.
"Everybody's dream is to play in Europe," Castillo said. "If I get a chance to come [up] here, I would come play in MLS. If not, I'd just stay down there."