By FRANCO PANIZO
LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – Most of the players called into the U.S. Under-23 men's national team camp that ply their trade in a league other than MLS have yet to break into their team's rotation.
That's not the case for Joe Corona.
At 21, Corona is a regular in Club Tijuana's gameday rosters. He played in 13 of the club's 17 games this past Apertura campaign, starting in eight of them. All this after playing a pivotal role in helping the club secure promotion to Mexico's Primera Division this past spring.
"A lot of good things have happened this past year," said Corona, who scored twice in the Apertura, including Tijuana's first-ever goal in Mexico's top flight. "I think that's one of the things that helped me get (to the U-23 camp) and I have to keep working the same way so I can either have more opportunities here or somewhere else."
Still eligible to play for the United States, Mexico and El Salvador, Corona originally decided to suit up for El Tri in August before changing his mind and accepting a call-up to the U.S. U-23 training camp held in Germany last month.
That call-up came as a result of Corona's breakout year at the club level, a year that has him excited at the prospects of what's to come in 2012.
Not only will next year provide Corona with an opportunity to regain a starting spot with Tijuana after being used as more of a substitute in the second half of the Apertura, but it will also give the California native a chance to help the club finish better than the 15th place it ended up in this past fall.
With a season of experience in Mexico's top flight, Corona believes both goals are attainable.
"Most of the team has more confidence with each other, on and off the field," said Corona. "There's been a better group (for) this next season and we didn't do that bad. We were almost at the middle of the table and I think this season is going to be way better."
Corona's assessmment of his club team isn't entirely accurate. Tijuana had eight points less than teams in the middle of the pack, though reinforcements have been brought in as the Xolos aim for a higher finish in the Clausura season.
Two of those reinforcements that Corona will be playing alongside are fellow Mexican-Americans who are no strangers to the United States' set-up. Full U.S. national team fullback Edgar Castillo and youth national team defender Greg Garza signed with Tijuana in recent weeks, giving it a more American flavor.
"We're going to have two guys that have been here with the U.S. Soccer Federation," said Corona. "It's real good, get to be with them. Hopefully all three of us someday will be play in the national team together."
Currently representing the U.S. U-23 team with the hopes of making the Olympic qualifying team in March, Corona has been deployed centrally as opposed to his more typical wing position since camp began last week.
As you'd normally expect from someone playing constantly, Corona has come in sharp. He's looked good in midfield while adapting to head coach Caleb Porter's high-pressure, possession-oriented style of play.
"The most important thing is to press on and off the ball, always have good transition," said Corona of what Porter is asking of him and the team. "He likes to keep the ball, moving a lot and having possession and so I think that's pretty important to us."
As one of the few abroad players seeing time with his club, Corona might be just as important to the U.S. U-23 team once March rolls around.