Edgar Castillo is not particularly fond of interviews, but the number of requests he receives may soon be increasing, what with his next international match coming against Mexico, a country whose media and fans once called him a traitor.
On Thursday, with the U.S. national team in the midst of a shakeup after the recent hiring of team manager Jürgen Klinsmann to replace Bob Bradley, the 24-year-old Castillo was unexpectedly selected to play in the August 10 friendly. The match in Philadelphia will not only be the first time the archrivals have met since Mexico's 4-2 come-from-behind defeat of the United States in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in June, but also Castillo's first chance to play against his old team and the country where he still resides.
"It's a big priority," Castillo said of playing for the United States. "I was born in the U.S. Even though I've played a lot in Mexico, because Mexico has been treating me good, I changed to the U.S. national team and I think I made a good choice."
Castillo's story is one he seldom discusses, namely because he rarely speaks to the press. But with this most recent call-up, it may finally be the start to a new chapter in his career.
In mid-July, the left-footed wingback for Club América, one of Mexico's most popular pro teams, showcased a little of his trademark speed after a match. Following the first of three exhibitions held in the United States as part of the World Football Challenge series, Castillo bolted past the mixed zone -- a cordoned-off section where media eagerly await players after games -- stopping only briefly to take photos with a couple fans in route to the team's luxury liner.
Though América had submitted a less than stellar performance, dropping the friendly 2-0 to the more physically imposing Manchester City at San Francisco's AT&T Park, it was clear even early in the match that Castillo -- listed at 150 pounds and anywhere from 5-7 to 5-9, depending on which website you check -- is one of his team's most versatile talents. His visible prowess on the field in both the offensive and defensive zones provides the 11,000-plus mostly pro-América crowd with more than a few moments of excitement.
Two weeks later in a match against Juventus, one of Italy's most recognized and successful clubs, at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y., Castillo is again in América's starting 11 and listed as a midfielder, though he is positioned on the left defensive side. The prominently displayed white-and-red Bimbo logo -- a Mexican baked goods brand that is América's primary sponsor -- across the players' chests clashes with the team's head-to-toe golden yellow attire.
América plays much better as a team in this match, controlling possession, having a number of legitimate scoring chances and limiting Juventus' opportunities at the so highly valued set pieces, free and corner kicks. Castillo plays less in the offensive zone this evening, but totally disrupts Juventus forward Milos Krasic -- who perhaps has six inches and at least 20 pounds on his adept defender -- and his ability to make plays with the ball.
Afterwards, the media are once again waiting in the mixed zone for players from both clubs as they depart the stadium. The door to Club América's locker room slowly cracks open and with duffle bags in tote, Castillo is near the head of the line. At least a couple reporters call his name, but as if it were a championship sprinting event, Castillo explodes out of the blocks toward the finish, never once looking up. He will later say he chose not to speak on this occasion because he was tired.
If nothing else, Castillo's sentiment toward the press is understandable. Though it rarely occurs on the pitch, he has been burned before.
A dual citizen of the United States and Mexico, Castillo was labeled a turncoat by the Mexican media and called much worse by fans from the stands when in 2009, an updated rule from FIFA allowed him to swap his recognized national allegiance. He had previously competed for Mexico, his father Carlos' home country, but chose to switch to the United States, his birth nation.
"When I changed to the U.S. national team, it was a hard time for me because people called me a traitor and stuff like that," said Castillo a week after the match in New York by phone from Mexico City. "It was a big deal here in Mexico, but not anymore, I don't feel like."
Before the rule revision, a dual citizen could only make this switch if he were under the age of 21. But then FIFA decided age was just a number so a player could change national teams as long as he had not previously entered a senior-level match for the original country. By that time, Castillo was moving his way up the Mexican national team's depth chart, but made the switch before suiting up for a qualifying-round game.
The updated rule allowed the 2002 New Mexico high school player of the year to roll back a decision he begrudgingly made as an 18-year-old student at Mayfield High in Las Cruces. He had never garnered any real considerations after attending a U.S. national camp at age 14. So upon his father's advice, he made the trip south and, at that time, effectively traded soccer for Fútbol forever. After he joined the Mexican league, his teammates affectionately dubbed him "El Gringo."
But Castillo's transition back to the United States has not gone as smoothly as he would have hoped. A midfielder by trade but a defender by practice, Castillo has remained in the Mexican pro league, bouncing around on loan with a handful teams. All the while, despite only receiving one call up from his home
country -- a friendly against Denmark in 2009 -- Castillo has been attempting to establish himself as its go-to left defensive back, a position at which the United States has continually shown it is particularly weak.
"I've been only called up once, so I don't know if I'll be getting called up again," said Castillo before receiving Klinsmann's call. "But I hope I get to be called up."
Before the match against Mexico next week, Castillo will have his work cut out for him this Saturday in the last of Club América's three stateside exhibitions. América faces last season's UEFA Champions League victors FC Barcelona at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"Back here with Club América, I'm getting playing time, so that's good," Castillo said. "I'm happy I'm playing, but I'll be much happier if I get called up to the U.S. national team. I'm feeling good. Whenever they call me, I'll be ready."
Now all he has to do is get used to the interviews.
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