Still in Prime, Joe Corona Eyes Liga MX Title, U.S. Call
April 28, 2017
EVEN WITH THE UNITED STATES national team in a period of transition and the central midfield position still in flux, Joe Corona is a player many American fans might have forgotten about. On the surface, it's easy to see why. His last national team appearance came in the third-place game of the ill-fated 2015 Gold Cup and he recently spent most of 2016 on loan in the second tier of Mexico.
But as with anything in life, a soccer player’s fortune can change very quickly. A closer examination reveals that Corona, 26, is in his prime and playing very good soccer for a well-coached Club Tijuana team that currently sits atop the Liga MX standings with just two games remaining before the playoffs.
“We are focused right now on finishing at the top of the table,” Corona told American Soccer Now this week. “Last season I wasn't here but the team had a great run and was in first place heading into the playoffs but unfortunately it lost in the first round. This is a rematch for all of us. We know what it's like to play in the playoffs. We all want to make it to the final. Hopefully we do get it.”
If they do progress to the championship, Corona will certainly be playing a key role as a starting midfielder. Last Friday he scored the game-winning goal in an important 2-0 victory over Toluca that moved the club into first place. Corona received accolades from the media as well as a shout out publically on twitter from former United States national team coach Jurgen Klinsmman. Corona admitted he was surprised by Klinsmann’s tweet but happy to know the German World Cup winning forward is still watching his former players.
Corona's attachment to the club is well-known. When he left San Diego State University early to turn professional and joined the youth ranks in Tijuana, located about 25 miles south of campus.
In 2011, he scored one of the most important goals in club history in the promotional playoff final, lifting Tijuana into Liga MX for the first time. The next season he scored the club’s first-ever Liga MX goal in the season opener. In 2012, he was a regular starter as it won the Liga MX title in the Apertura.
After years of being a consistent presence for Club Tijuana, the minutes started to fade for Corona. In 2015 he was loaned to Veracruz and in 2016 he was loaned to Dorados in the second division. It was a challenging time on multiple levels.
Before the loans he was living at home in San Diego and commuting to Xolos, but he was then forced to move away from his hometown for the first time. Gradually he settled in well at Dorados and at the end of 2016, he helped the club win the Liga Ascenso MX title.
Corona has since used that time to both mature and reestablish himself back in Tijuana under former Mexican national team coach Miguel Herrera, whom Corona describes as good and straightforward coach who will only play players that perform well in training.
“I think it helped me a lot to go out there and being away from home to a whole different city and a different team,” Corona recalled. “In a way it helped me be a bit more mature. I was really in my comfort zone being at home for so long. I feel good and I am happy I'm back. Overall I think it was a good thing but it wasn't great because I was way from my family and people I love.
“Now I am just enjoying myself,” Corona added. “I personally feel pretty good as a player. Last year on loan with Dorados I got a lot of playing time. It's been a process going from there and coming here, taking that momentum while getting the confidence from Miguel Herrera and all my teammates at Xolos. That has helped. I really feel like I am an important part of the team.
"I have a lot of confidence out there on the field and I am really enjoying myself on the field. I am just trying to make the most of this opportunity.”
Corona is not the only Yank playing for Club Tijuana, a club with strong ties to American talent. One of Corona’s closest friends on the team is Paul Arriola, whom he calls his “little brother.” Like Corona, Arriola grew up in the San Diego area and began his professional career as a teenager with Club Tijuana. Both players have used their success at the club to earn call-ups to the United States national team.
Arriola has grown to know Corona well and has seen significant improvement in his game since rejoining the club in 2017.
“Joe's been excellent for us this season,” Arriola said. “He had a rough couple of tournaments over the past year and came back this season to Xolos to make a statement. He has been able to play in the center of the midfield for us most of the tournament. It's nice having him on the field next to me. He usually plays right center-mid and I play right-mid. We have a great chemistry and each game its better and better. I feel extremely comfortable when Joe is on the field with me. We are both two-way players which makes the right side work well offensively and defensively and that's always nice because we always have each other’s backs.
“We actually carpool together going down to Tijuana—and by 'carpool' I mean, I catch a ride with him every day,” Arriola said, laughing. “It’s more of a one-way street as far as who is driving. I think our relationship over the past six months has really taken off and gotten stronger on and off the field.”
In addition to helping Tijuana win its second Liga MX title this year, Corona has another goal: returning to the United States national team this summer. With Bruce Arena seemingly unimpressed with the Jermaine Jones-Michael Bradley central midfield pairing, there could be an opening.
Corona has been capped 17 times by the national team but has not been in the picture the past two years.
“That is something I definitely want to happen,” Corona said. “At the moment I haven't had any contact with [Arena]. I know they've come to a few of the games to check us out. I know they're watching. I am just trying to focus on Tijuana so that I hope I can get a call-up. I still watch every U.S. game and I’m paying attention. I am always on top of everything.”