Joe Corona earned a spot on Club Tijuana through an open tryout. Now he's earned a spot on the USA team thanks to a Olympic qualifying hat trick.Crack open a cold one, Joe Corona. You deserve it.
The midfielder scored a hat trick to lead the U.S. U-23 squad to a 6-0 romp over Cuba in the opening match of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.
The 21-year-old kicked things off at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. by padding a side-footed shot into the open net following a goalkeeper error.
"Playing a team like Cuba, they defended pretty well. They put men behind the ball and they worked hard," captain Freddy Adu said. "When you get that first goal, it's a huge sigh of relief."
Then Corona, wearing the U.S. No.10, later finished off two chances in the box as the Americans roughly exploited a man advantage.
The hat trick equaled Corona's goal output for Club Tijuana this entire season.
The Xolos midfielder came close to never scoring for the United States, though. Mexico called him in for the U-22 Pan American Games last year. He accepted but didn't make the cut for the team that competed in Guadalajara.
When Caleb Porter rang, the San Diego-born attacker jumped at a second chance.
In January he traveled with the U.S. team to Costa Rica for a pair of friendlies. Then in February he started as the Americans beat Mexico's U-23 side 2-0.
"We've had Joe in every camp and, really, for me, when the light bulb went on was in the Costa Rica portion of our trip," Porter said.
That's when the University of Akron coach settled on his starting midfield three of Corona, Mix Diskerud and Jared Jeffrey. "It just felt good," Porter said. "It felt right."
Porter's vibes manifested themselves as goals against Cuba. Diskerud and Corona combined for Corona's latter two strikes.
The two seem indicative of a new wave of American player. Diskerud was born in Oslo, Norway, and represented Norway at the U-18 and U-19 levels. The Gent midfielder called Corona's first a 'Mexican finish'. But beyond representing diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, both embody the type of possession soccer Jurgen Klinsmann and Porter preach.
"We are technical players and we want to keep the ball," Diskerud said.
"Mix and Joe, they're quality players, very technical," Porter agreed, before talking about his entire midfield. "The nice thing about all three of those guys is they're three of our most fit guys on the team, with tremendous range to get around the field. Not only are they technical and intelligent tactically, but they're also honest defensively."
Of the three, Corona has the least defensive responsibility. As evidenced by his fortuitous sojourns into the Cuban box, Corona enjoyed the extra wiggle room on the leash.
"With the position I'm in, I have a lot of freedom," Corona said. "[Porter] trusts me a lot and he gives me that freedom. I think that's something that helps me a lot."
Then before he headed back to his hotel in Nashville, Tenn., Corona said something unexpected for a kid with a Mexican father, Salvadorian mother, San Diego house and Tijuana workplace:
"I feel like I'm at home."
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Seth Vertelney contributed additional reporting from Nashville, Tenn.