By Brooke Tunstall – CHARLOTTE, NC (Jun 29, 2009) USSoccerPlayers — The United States National Team just might get back one that got away.
New Mexico native Edgar Castillo, who seemed unlikely to ever play for the country of his birth after representing Mexico’s Under-23 team in Olympic qualifying, said recently he’d be willing to take advantage of a new FIFA rule allowing players cap-tied at the youth National Team level to switch National Teams.
“I would play for the United States,” Castillo said during a recent phone interview from Mexico, where he is preparing for the upcoming Mexican League season with Tigres. “I’d want to talk to them first, but I want to play for the US. I think it would be a very good opportunity for me, for my career. If they call me I would play for them. “
Castillo, a 22-year old left-footed player who plays both wide midfield and defense, grew up in Las Cruces, N.M. and was his state’s high school player of the year as a sophomore. But he never got much attention from the US youth National Team setup whom, he said, deemed the 5-foot-8 Castillo too small.
After high school Castillo signed with Santos in his parents’ native Mexico and worked his way through their system to become a starter on the team that won the 2008 Clausura championship. His play for Santos caught the attention of then-Mexican National Team coach Hugo Sanchez and Castillo played in a pair of friendlies with El Tri’s senior team in 2007 and last year started on the U23 team’s failed bid to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
Failing to qualify for Beijing cost Sanchez his job and neither his successor, Sven-Goran Eriksson nor current boss Javier Aguirre have used Castillo in World Cup Qualifying and he wasn’t named to the roster for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“It’s been hard for me because (Mexico) switched coaches three times,” said Castillo. “Hugo Sanchez, he seemed to like me. He gave me my first games. Then (Eriksson) played me in one (friendly). Aguirre called me into one camp but I didn’t play and I haven’t been back. I don’t think I’m in his plans.”
The CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers were official FIFA games and permanently cap-tied Castillo to Mexico, or so he thought. But earlier this month FIFA passed a rule that allowed players with dual citizenship to switch National Teams if they had only been cap-tied at the youth National Team level. Because the games Castillo played for Mexico’s senior team were friendlies, he is eligible to switch allegiances to the United States.
When Castillo heard about FIFA’s new rule, he “knew I had a chance to play for the US again.”
Castillo admitted he was once bitter towards the American soccer establishment for overlooking him but that those feelings have faded over time. “Right now I just want to do what is best for my career and my family.”
Castillo said he hasn’t heard from the US Soccer Federation since FIFA’s rule change and he’s waiting until he does before he petitions FIFA to switch National Teams, a formality that must be completed if he’s going to play for the US.
Castillo said he’s been following the US in the Confederations Cup and is aware that left back has been a question mark for US coach Bob Bradley. “They have a lot of good players. I don’t think I’d come in and be handed anything. But I’d like a chance to compete” for a starting spot. Castillo added that he has chatted about playing for the US with fellow Mexico-based Mexican Americans Jose Francisco Torres of Pachuca and Michael Orozco of San Luis.
If he plays for the US, Castillo would join Martin Vasquez as the only players to represent both the US and Mexican senior teams. Vasquez played for Mexico in some friendlies in the early 90s before becoming a US citizen and helping the National Team qualify for France 98.
Castillo transferred to Mexican power Club America in January but they recently lent him to Tigres, a move that reunites him with Daniel Guzman, his coach at Santos. Castillo doesn’t expect Guzman to have any issues with him playing for the US. “He knows I have to do what is best for me.”
FIFA’s new rule doesn’t take effect until early August and Castillo is well-aware of where the Americans’ first game after he’d be eligible to play for them is. “It’s at Azteca!” he said of the August 12th qualifier at Mexico City’s famed Azteca Stadium.
Despite that being Club America’s home stadium, Castillo doesn’t expect a warm greeting if he plays for the US. “They’ll probably hate me,” he said with a laugh.
Veteran sportswriter Brooke Tunstall is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC. He can be reached at BrookeTunstall@aim.com