Nicolás Castillo – Pumas’ Hope for a Better Future

Nicolás Castillo – Pumas’ Hope for a Better Future

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Manuel Veth –

UNAM Pumas striker Nicolás Castillo was a major talking point in the recently revamped World Football Index – Don’t Call it Soccer Podcast. Nicolás Castillo had scored a wonder goal on matchday 7 in the Liga MX Clausura stage against Club Tijuana.

Pumas quickly went down 3-0, and Xolos from Tijuana looked like they were poised to win the match by a wide margin. What came next, however, was absolute magic by the 24-year-old Chilean striker Nicolás Castillo.

In the 72nd minute, Nicolás Castillo got at the end of a corner kick to score with a wonderful scissor kick goal. It was the sort of goal that could see the Chilean forward in contention for the Puskas Awards at the end of the season. Beautifully executed, the ball hit the top net right behind the cross bar.

It was the rallying cry for an unlikely comeback for Pumas. Four minutes later, Pablo Barrera converted a penalty kick to make it 3-2. Then in the 81st minute, Castillo was in the middle of the fray again.

Alan Mendoza wiped in a low cross from the left side, which was redirected by Castillo, then hit Tijuana defender Juan Carlos Valenzuela in the chest, and from there the ball spiralled past goalkeeper Gibran Lajud. Liga MX later declared the goal an own goal, but it was Castillo, who made the goal happen.

With the performance, Nicolás Castillo continues his promising start in Liga MX. The Chilean striker has now scored three goals in six Liga MX starts, and has consequently managed to continue to resurrect his career after a disappointing stint in Europe.

Nicolás Castillo had a tough time in Europe

Bought by Club Bruges in January 2014 from Universidad Católica, Castillo scored eight goals in 18 games for the Belgium based club in the first half of the 2014-15 season. As a result, he earned himself a loan deal to the Bundesliga side 1.FSV Mainz.

The Bundesliga, however, appeared to be a step too far for the then 22-year-old forward. Castillo managed just 27 minutes for Mainz and, as a result, the Bundesliga side refrained from making the deal permanent.

Next came a short stint in Italy with the Serie A side Frosinone Calcio. But after just six games with no goals, Castillo was once again on the move.

Loaned out to his youth club Universidad Católica, Nicolás Castillo received the playing time that he needed to rediscover his goal scoring touch. He completed the 2015-16 Chilean Primera División with ten goals in just seven games. Remaining in Chile for the first half of the 2016-17 season, Nicolás Castillo added another 13 goals and five assists in just 12 Primera División games.

Those who regularly follow Adam Brandon on the World Football Index – South American Football Show know, however, that Chilean club football is currently in crisis. Despite the prowess of the Chilean national team, clubs from Chile struggle to compete with teams from the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay.

 Castillo is a powerful striker

Adam Brandon describes Castillo as “powerful, skilful, and excellent in the air despite his small height.” Brandon also believes that Castillo “still has time to fulfil his promise. Moving back to Católica, his boyhood club, proved to be an excellent decision. He finished as top scorer in both the Clausura and the Apertura, as Católica claimed back-to-back titles for the first time in history—no mean feat for a club that was always known as “the bridesmaid in Chilean football.”

Castillo’s time in Chile also meant that he was included in Chile’s national team squad for the Copa América Centenario in the United States. There, Brandon points out, Castillo earned his medal. “He had a decent performance [in the final] against Argentina, topped off with him scoring one of the penalties, showing composure under pressure.”

Nicolás Castillo had a hard time in Europe. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Brandon believes that Castillo still has his best days ahead of him: “I think he still has a fine career ahead of him now that he is back on the right track. Chileans had high hopes for him when he was the focal point of the entertaining U-20 Chile side in 2013; performances that earned him a move to Europe.”

Once he had resurrected his career, it was no surprise that Nicolás Castillo was on the lookout to move to a more competitive arena. With the decline of the Brazilian Serie A and the Argentine Primera División, and with his recent experience in Europe it was logical that Castillo chose Liga MX for his next destination.

Liga MX has been on the up in recent years, and there is an argument to be made that the league, at the moment, is the strongest competition in the Western Hemisphere. Furthermore, while Pumas, who are often in the shadow of city rivals América, Chivas from Guadalajara, and Tigres UANL from Monterrey, probably have the deepest squad in the league, and are a formidable force in Mexican football.

Pumas have not won a trophy until 2011

Pumas finished the Apertura in sixth place but were then eliminated by Tigres in the first round of the playoffs with a heavy aggregate score of 7-2 (2-2 and 5-0). Head coach, Francisco Palencia, is now in charge of rebuilding a squad that has not won a title in Mexico since the 2011 Clausura title.

Castillo was recently highlighted by the Futbolgrad Network as one of the players to look out for in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. But, with Liga MX games coming in thick and fast, head coach Palencia chose to rest Castillo for the first half against Tigres during the week.

Nicolás Castillo is one of the players we have identified in our CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal Preview, as a player to look out for. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Nicolás Castillo is one of the players we have identified in our CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal Preview, as a player to look out for. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a somewhat strange decision, as Pumas’ recent performance against Querétaro, highlights that the club still has some way to go before they become a top performer in Liga MX. The CONCACAF Champions League, a title Pumas have never won, could, therefore, be the fastest way to a title. Especially after Pumas secured a 1-1 draw away in Monterrey against Tigres UANL.

A victory in the quarterfinal would set them up against either New York Red Bull or Vancouver Whitecaps from Major League Soccer in the semi-final. Given the gulf between Liga MX and MLS, Pumas would be favourites in such a matchup. Nicolás Castillo, in the meantime, could use the CONCACAF Champions League stage to further show his massive talent to potential suitors from Europe’s big leagues.

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Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.

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