Vail Valley local strikes soccer gold in California
Cesar Castillo is the best player in California’s best junior college soccer program. Just ask his coach.
Cerritos College near Los Angeles has been ranked No. 2 in the nation the last three years. No national championship discussion is complete without mentioning the Falcons, and no dicussion of the Falcons is complete without mentioning Castillo.
After Cerritos College, the Eagle Valley High School graduate is headed to UC-Santa Barbara, a college soccer superpower.
“We’ve been talking almost every day,” Castillo said. “Some other schools have said they were interested, but that’s where I’m headed.”
After that, who knows?
“The kid is worth the price of admission,” said coach Benny Artiaga, Cerritos College men’s soccer coach. “He’s a great player and teammate.”
The Chivas USA Academy, one of the world’s top programs, has Castillo in their youth system. He played in a huge tournament with Guadalajara Copa Chivas.
Artiaga says the U.S. National Team has been calling, keeping up with Castillo. The Mexican National Team’s staff has their eye on him, too. His parents are both from Mexico.
From Colorado to California
These people watch Castillo mostly because he’s fun to watch.
When Castillo was playing for Eagle Valley High School and regional soccer clubs, he was being watched closely by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Artiaga called UCSB the “premier soccer college in California,” although the folks at UCLA might assert that UCSB is certainly in the top two.
The UCSB staff sent him to Cerritos College to see what he’d do against California competition.
He’s doing just fine thank you very much.
“He showed all of us whether it’s California or Colorado, the kid just flat-out play,” Artiaga said. “He’s a real special kid.”
Most kids have fantasies about being a professional athlete, but think about the best athletes you know and they’re not that good – unless you know Castillo, Artiaga said.
“I’ve put enough players into the professional ranks and the MLS to know this kid can play at the next level,” Artiaga said. “But even as good as he is, he never never shows anyone up. He’s such a good-hearted kid.”
You can get there from here
So, how does a local kid get noticed by a top school in soccer rich Southern California?
“I really have no idea,” Castillo said.
But he’s glad he was.
Artiaga was in Aurora visiting his girlfriend’s grandmother, so he decided to take a ride up to Vail to see Castillo play. When he got here, he was carsick from the twisting ride over the mountains.
“The first thing that popped through my head is that this kid had better be worth it,” Artiaga said.
He was worth every minute and every mile, Artiaga said.
“It’s interesting how well we hit it off,” Artiaga said.
It’s been a big commitment for Castillo and his family. They have two kids in college at the same time, and Cesar had to pay out-of-state tuition his freshman year. In California that a big tab to pick up.
Jovita Castillo, Cesar’s mother, played her college soccer at Los Angeles Harbor College before she moved to Colorado. She calls after every game. When she had Cesar, her soccer career stopped.
“All his mom cares about is for him to graduate,” Artiaga said.
Gypsum to Los Angeles is a big jump, and the jump from high school and club soccer to California college soccer is just as big.
“I’ve been enjoying college and Cerritos is a good school,” Castillo said. “I adjusted in my first year.”
He’s a sophomore in college, so he has time to figure out what’s next. Maybe a teacher, hopefully soccer.
Little Big Man
The Falcons staff and teammates sometimes call Castillo “The Little One,” but don’t be fooled.
“He plays huge,” Artiaga said. “Cesar is about 5-5, but he plays like he’s 6-5. He’s turning a lot of heads right now.”
Castillo wears No. 9 for the Falcons, a goal scorer’s number, but he does anything and plays anywhere he’s asked, Artiaga said.
Last year at Cerritos, Castillo played beside Luis Gonzales, the national Player of the Year. Castillo still ended his freshman season in California’s top 10 in points with 15 goals and 10 assists. He earned first-team all conference honors and scored the game-winning goal in the national quarterfinals.
He’s been banged up with an ankle injury this year, but the season is still young. He played 70 of the 90 minutes against Golden West last Friday, the first time this season he’s gone more than a half, scoring once and adding an assist.
“Cesar is such an important part of the team, it was just important to see him get big minutes,” Artiaga said. “It’s a huge step forward for this team when Cesar is on the field, and it’s just nice to see him getting healthy.”
Castillo drilled a low, hard shot into the back of the net in the 35th minute of the first half. He got the assist on a spectacular one-on-one move and a cross to a teammate for the Falcons’ third goal.
“It feels good to just get on the field and help our team win,” Castillo said after the game. “I feel like I’m at about 75-80 percent of what I should be, but my ankle continues to get stronger. It’s just good to see the team coming together.”