Interview with RJ Castelan

by Art Eftekhari

ocfc assistant coach rj castelan shares his soccer knowledge and talks about his upbringing with the sport he loves

Art Eftekhari: Where did you grow up?

RJ Castelan: I grew up in Mission Viejo.

Art Eftekhari: Were you brought up in a family that loved soccer?

RJ Castelan: Yes, but neither one of my parents played soccer. It all started with my brother Peter, who is seven years older. He attended Mission Viejo High School and set numerous records and he used to practice with me in the backyard. I think that subconsciously planted the seeds in me to play midfield and defense.

Art Eftekhari: Did you feel there was pressure on you to be a star soccer player at Mission Viejo High School because of your brother’s success?

RJ Castelan: I wouldn’t describe it as pressure, but healthy challenge. I love to be the underdog, under promise and over deliver. I normally let my actions speak for themselves and let the coaches decide what my role was for the given opponent. As a player, I loved to be underestimated because I will get in your head and I will cause problems no matter who you are!

Art Eftekhari: I’ve heard that you once played soccer at the semi-pro level. Which team did you play for?

RJ Castelan: SC Lusitania. I still play with a few of those guys today!

Art Eftekhari: Who was your favorite soccer player when you were growing up?

RJ Castelan: Growing up we had AYSO and it was very customary to play half the game at defense and half the game in an offensive position. So for half of the game I would pretend I was Franz Beckenbauer playing center back and when I played forward I pretended to be Giorgio Chinaglia. To this day, if I get to choose my jersey number when I play in a game, I always choose number nine, which was Giorgio’s number.

Art Eftekhari: The story goes that you had a serious knee injury which ended your chances of playing at the professional level. How did the injury affect you?

RJ Castelan: I was playing in a tournament in Vail, Colorado and I was taken out from behind while advancing the ball up the field. Never saw it coming. Devastation, heartbreak, and resent were my initial emotions. I had never been hurt like that before…but the life lesson I learned is that there isn’t just one route to chasing your dreams. If you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, all you have to do is re-direct your energy to find another door or path to reach the same goal. I chose to still be involved with soccer and to this day I try to make positive impacts on other players’ lives as best I can.

Art Eftekhari: What has been the biggest highlight of your soccer career?

RJ Castelan: When I was a member of LA Strikers, I got to play against and cover Jurgen Klinsmann when he played for Orange County Blue Star in 2003.

Art Eftekhari: What was it like covering a Jurgen Klinsmann who was past his prime?

RJ Castelan: Having the opportunity to play against or defend a player of that elite level was a tremendous challenge. It's the type that you wish and dream about to get a measure of your own growth over the years, to compare yourself against the best of the best and get a real life idea of just how good players are that you idolize. Since I wasn't blessed with incredible leaping ability or speed I had to concentrate on what I could do best: anticipate. I thought to myself, If I can focus on anticipating the passes coming to him, deny him the opportunity to touch the ball or at least never let him face the goal. My best game plan was to minimize his impact on the game.

Art Eftehari: Was Jurgen still tough to defend?

RJ Castelan: Let's just say be careful what you wish for. Players like Jurgen have a solution for everything. He ran like a deer. He ran fast, graceful, and effortlessly. His endurance and work rate was higher than ANY of his teammates.

Art Eftekhari: Did he have a big impact on the game?

RJ Castelan: He scored one of the most unbelievable headers I ever saw. At about midfield, he started sprinting on the weak side as one of his players was making a run up the other side with the ball. The player crossed the ball which bounced one time across the far side of the box. The sprinting Klinsmann headed the ball off the bounce from the upper corner of the box. It was maybe a 25-yard header that scored far post in the upper corner. He was just on a completely different level.

Art Eftekhari: How does it feel to work with Paul Caligiuri? 

RJ Castelan: We used to work together many years ago when we coached at a club called Infinity that was based in Tustin. When the opportunity to become his assistant coach here at OCFC was offered, it was a very easy decision to make. Over the years I have learned a great deal and I’m ever grateful.

Art Eftekhari: How often does Paul talk about his goal against Trinidad & Tobago?

RJ Castelan: The "Shot Heard Round the World" was a pivotal goal for US Soccer on many levels. Now that the United States Men's National Team was seeing some of that exciting play and success; it changed the landscape of soccer in the United States because bigger sponsors got involved, generated more public awareness, and the fan base grew. All of this contributed to the growth of soccer in the US. To be honest, I hear other people talk about that goal more than Paul ever has.

Art Eftekhari: What are your goals with Orange County FC for the 2019 NPSL Regular Season?

RJ Castelan: Our team goals are clearly to advance to the playoffs and in the US Open Cup. With that said, it’s a long season and challenges need to be anticipated and planned for in advance. There are injuries, card accumulations, attitudes, challenges to performance and staying mentally strong. Players must be ready at all times because you never know when your chance will come. It’s my personal goal to encourage, motivate, and keep players ready to perform at their best through positive reinforcement, sharing common experiences, and providing feedback on the steps they have taken to attain their goals.

Art Eftekhari: RJ, thank you for your time and do you have a message for the Orange County FC supporters?

RJ Castelan: A big thank you goes out to all our fans, friends, and family. As a group, we appreciate the opportunity they have given OCFC to earn their respect and support through the hard work and sacrifice the players and staff give to “the beautiful game” and OCFC. Cheers!