Castillo keen to continue D.C. legacy
WASHINGTON -- Millions of soccer fans around the United States were frustrated and dismayed to see Christian Castillo run the U.S. defense ragged in World Cup qualifying, scoring two goals for El Salvador as the tiny Central American nation stood toe to toe with the region's powerhouse in the CONCACAF hexagonal round.But Kevin Payne watched the twinkle-toed winger's exploits and envisioned something else -- his team's next marquee acquisition from Latin America."I became convinced that Christian was a player that we should target when I watched him play for El Salvador in World Cup qualifying, especially against the U.S. national team," recalled D.C. United's president and CEO on Wednesday afternoon. "He played against players that we know very well and he had exceptional performances in both games against the United States."Though it required extended negotiations and a change of direction at the Mexican club that owns Castillo's rights, Payne and D.C. general manager Dave Kasper finally got their man last month -- and on Wednesday United formally welcomed Castillo to the nation's capital in an RFK Stadium press conference that hailed the young Salvadoran as the latest in a proud line of Black-and-Red heroes from south of the border."This signing carries on a tradition that we began in 1996: our team has always had important players from Central and South America," said Payne. "We believe in the quality of those players and we are confident that Christian will uphold that tradition of greatness."Throughout United's 14-year history, the likes of Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Raul Diaz Arce, Ronald Cerritos and Christian Gomez have added vital flair and finesse to the D.C. attack, and club officials believe Castillo can light up RFK in similar fashion.A speedy left-sided player with an impressive arsenal of tricks and flicks, Castillo brings his own unique skills set to D.C. but he is keenly aware of the legacy that precedes him -- not to mention the great expectations his international performances have inspired among Washington's substantial Salvadoran community, an important segment of the club's fanbase."It will be an honor for me to wear the D.C. United jersey," he said. "I do represent a whole community and a whole country of El Salvador. I don't promise any titles -- the only promise I can give you is my sacrifice and my work, and I'm looking forward to beginning that here."Trumpeting the lavish talent and potential of a 25-year-old who has made 32 appearances for his country, Kasper and new D.C. coach Curt Onalfo are eager to see Castillo torment MLS defenders just as he did U.S. right back Frank Hejduk in those qualifiers."I want to give Christian tons of confidence and faith," said Onalfo in both English and Spanish. "He's a player that is very good one-v-one. And when he has an opportunity, I want him to take players on. If he doesn't succeed the first time, try the second time. If he doesn't succeed the second, try the third. Because the third time, he's going to beat the guy and he's going to give us an opportunity to score a goal."Castillo spent last year with Leon of the Mexican second division alongside fellow Salvadoran international Rodalfo Zelaya. But new manager Jose Luis Salgado has elected to bring in new signings from abroad and with only three roster spots allowed for foreign players in the Primera A, Castillo slipped down the pecking order and United seized the opportunity, eventually securing a 1-year loan that gives the MLS side the option to sign him to a longer-term deal after the 2010 campaign."We feel that we have one of the most interesting talents in Central America. He's a very dynamic player," said Kasper. "So once that window opened for us to move on him, we hit it pretty quick."While his status as the leading light of another talent-laden generation from the region represents some additional pressure for Castillo, his action-packed displays at the international level suggest that he's capable of excelling in the spotlight and he welcomed the chance to perform in a city that has become a home away from home for thousands of Salvadorans."I think that's a great motivation for a player, knowing that you have a lot of your fellow countrymen behind you," said Castillo. "All you want to do is go out on the field and show well for them. Obviously those are my intentions, but also show well for myself and for the team."Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.