It’s a Los Angeles-dominated affair at the top of the Western Conference with LAFC and the LA Galaxy occupying the top two spots. Guillermo Barros Schelotto has made quite the impact at Dignity Health Sports Park after his appointment in the offseason with Joe Corona one of the signings to have hit the ground running.
FloFC caught up with Corona after the Gold Cup group stage break. He spoke about his move to MLS, the new Leagues Cup, what it’s like to play alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the burgeoning rivalry with Los Angeles FC. Here’s what the U.S. international had to say.
FloFC: Why did this year feel like the right time to make the move to Major League Soccer?
Joe Corona: After playing for so many years, throughout my whole career I always wanted to come to MLS. It was always in my mind that at a point in my career I wanted to be here and I’m very happy that I did make the move. After coming from winning a championship in Mexico this was a big challenge for me.
You were on the LA Galaxy’s discovery list for nearly a decade. Did you have the opportunity to sign for them before you actually did?
Yeah, there was always some interest from MLS teams from when I was in my early stages in Mexico. Like you said, I was on the discovery list for the Galaxy and I was very close to coming here back in 2015 or 2016. For personal reasons I ended up going back to Tijuana and I didn’t make the move then. So it feels good to be here, finally. It’s my hometown where I was born, so it’s good. I’m happy. I have lots of my family here and it’s good to be closer to them after so many years being away.
You’ve played in Liga MX and MLS. What are the main differences in 2019 between the two leagues?
I didn’t have the chance to play in MLS before so I don’t really know how it has changed in all that time, but from what I hear and from what some of my teammates tell me, it has changed a lot. Coming into the league a lot of people think it’s easy, but no, it’s a very challenging league, which is getting better and better every year. I really find it very competitive. This is my hometown, my country, and this shows that soccer has grown in the United States.
What do you think of the recently announced Leagues Cup? How will that impact the rivalry between MLS and Liga, and American soccer and Mexican soccer in general?
I think it will increase the rivalry between the two. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why they decided to make the cup. It’s great to be involved in the first year and hopefully it’s a good turnout and becomes a good tournament to play in. Of course, the rivalry has been going on for so many years between the USA and Mexico and now having a tournament which involves teams from both countries, it will be very interesting and exciting. As soccer players we’re already used to [playing more games]. This is what we get paid for. I’m more than happy to play if I get the opportunity. It will be up to the coaches to decide how seriously they want to treat these games.
How would you say your role as a soccer player has changed under the new head coach at the LA Galaxy?
When I first started playing professional soccer I was more of a winger and then little by little they started moving me more into the middle, a number eight position. Now, I feel very comfortable playing in that position. For Club America and Tijuana that’s where I played, and coming into the Galaxy and playing with Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget in the middle has been very good. I’m familiar with that position and I think that’s worked out pretty well. So there hasn’t been much change to my game.
What’s it like to play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
It’s an honor to be able to play with such a big name. He has a lot of qualities on the pitch. He sees things differently from other players. We also know he has high expectations of all of us. It’s been fun playing alongside him. He has a lot of experience from all the big club names he has played for and I think we can learn a lot from his game.
We all see the public character that Zlatan is. Is he like that with his teammates? Or is he a little different?
In the locker room he’s a little different with us, I would say. I think with the media, that’s a role he’s used to having, but in the locker room, just like every other human being, he’s a humble person and very cool with everyone.
Do you have a favorite Zlatan quote, something he has said to the press or maybe even in the locker room?
I think it’s more like the day-to-day stuff for me. It’s just the way he is. It’s funny to say, but he’s always coming up with different things. In the locker room we all joke around and make fun of each other and he’s involved with all that. It’s fun.
As a player for the LA Galaxy, do you feel threatened at all by what Los Angeles FC are doing right now?
I think we’re trying to focus on us. It’s good that there is another Los Angeles team doing well at the moment. I feel that there’s going to be a huge rivalry between the two clubs. But we’re just trying to do us and get better as a team and not worry too much about the rest of the teams. The Galaxy has been the bigger name throughout the years because it has had more time, but the games against LAFC are always exciting.
The first LA derby is next month. What sort of game should we expect between two in-form teams?
I think it’s going to be like a final. A lot of people are anticipating this game, they’re looking forward to going out there and watching it. It’s going to be a fun game. It will be high quality, high level, and it will be physical as well. Hopefully the Galaxy can get the win that day.
Why should a Los Angeles soccer fan support the Galaxy over LAFC? Make your pitch.
I wouldn’t try to convince anyone, everyone has their own opinion and their own choice, but I would tell them to root for the best team and the team they enjoy watching the most. Whoever they feel is the more attacking team, I’d go for them.
El Trafico, Battle of Hollywood, Los Angeles Derby—what do you call the rivalry?
It’s still a young rivalry, so there’s going to be a lot of names out there for it. El Trafico, I like that one, though.
Graham Ruthven is a soccer writer based in the U.K. He has written for the New York Times, Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, and others.