Taty Castellanos sits down and looks to get relaxed. He won’t be moving for a while. 

As the striker readjusts, there’s a faint buzz in the air. It’s coming from a tattoo gun. The striker is reaffirming his love for Argentina via ink and skin – with the words to his country’s national anthem etched into his shin. It’s also a chance to reflect upon a journey that has taken him to several different countries and the receipt of the 2021 MLS Golden Boot.  

“I feel super happy having won this award. It’s something that I worked really hard for. It was a great journey this year that started off really strong. I enjoyed every part of it.” 

That journey began some 5,000 miles south of his apartment overlooking Manhattan.

“I started with a team in Mendoza, a team that Leopoldo Luque started with,” he said. “He was a 1978 World Champion with Argentina, a legend, who unfortunately is not with us anymore. He taught me a lot as a kid, like how to kick a ball. I remember when I was 5 years old I went to his school and I was there until I was 10 and from there I went to a club for two years.

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“It was a process, I played in a lot of clubs because there was nothing official, there weren’t any contracts so I can play anywhere. But then when it became a bit more serious, I went to Club Leonardo Murialdo when I was 13 – 15 years old. I started to play there and I had the opportunity to play in the first division of that club. I really enjoyed that journey as a kid.”

The first major step towards a professional career took Castellanos to Santiago, Chile. There, in the country’s capital, he would join the youth ranks of Club Universidad Catalótica. It was fitting that a club with its history rooted in academics would provide Castellanos the next stage of his soccer education. The crescendo of his time with the club would come via a 14-minute cameo in the Copa Sudamericana against Brazilian side Corinthians. 

By then, the youngster had already caught the eye of Montevideo City Torque, then in Uruguay’s second division. A promising loan spell with Torque in 2017 saw the team earn promotion and was the precursor to a permanent transfer, before a similar pattern saw him join New York City FC – first on loan in 2018, before completing a permanent transfer in November of that year.

When Castellanos arrived in the five boroughs he was a bundle of enthusiasm and potential. The 23-year-old’s growth with NYCFC – both as player and person - can not only been seen via the ink on his arms and the beard on his face, but also in goals and assists. Castellanos has improved physically and mentally, and it was telling that Club Captain Sean Johnson lead his recent Golden Boot tribute to Castellanos with talk about the person he is first.

“Lots of things changed. I grew in all aspects – from experiences I went through, to the cities I’ve been in,” Castellanos said. “The city helped me grow. It gave me a lot of opportunities. I met a lot of great people. My confidence grew. The experiences I went through during all of the games helped me reach a lot of my goals. It helped us classify (for the playoffs) and it helped me win this prize. As the years go by and you’re in a club that is like a family, it helps you learn a lot day by day.

“On and off the pitch I’m a completely different person. On the pitch, I think I’m a really hated player, with the rivals. I get into arguments with them and I talk a lot to the referees. But I tell it like it is, I have a lot of feelings. But off the pitch, I’m a completely different person. I’m a very social person, I easily make friends. I’m very family oriented too. I never forget about the people I knew since I was a kid, the ones who helped me. Those are the values that you would want from the friends and family you grew up with. The ones who are always there for you during the good and bad times.”

Talk of family and friends takes his mind back to Mendoza, where he grew up dreaming of winning trophies and scoring goals. There is a light in the striker’s eye when he talks about home – its beautiful scenery owed in part to the fact it houses Argentina’s largest wine region.

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“Mendoza is beautiful,” Castellanos said. “If people have the opportunity, they should go visit Mendoza. It’s a city that has a lot of mountains and vineyards. It’s a nice city, it’s clean, it’s like Buenos Aires. The people are really nice and friendly. I like going in December to spend the holidays and to see my friends and family. I have a lot of fun. I appreciate a lot of things of having grown up there. I appreciate the journey I went through to get me to where I am. I appreciate the neighborhood where I grew up, my friends, my family who have helped me get here. I miss the barbeques, the get-togethers with friends. I miss the culture.”

When Castellanos next returns home he will bring with him the Golden Boot. He is the first Argentine player to collect the award, and that fact is not lost on him. While the striker can now reflect fondly on the regular season, he is also willing to acknowledge that rough replaced smooth earlier this year. A blistering start that saw him score four goals in four games was followed by a lean period during which he did not score once in nine league games.

The striker offers his team so much more than just goals, but when that key ingredient is missing from a forward’s game it can become a heavy burden. That’s when a combination of family, both from Mendoza and New York, came together.

“I was able to gain back the confidence and the coaches and teammates helped me through it,” he explained. “My family also helped me out, my mom came to visit and she helped me a lot. I always tell her that there were about eight games where I wasn’t scoring goals, but as soon as she came to visit and helped me out, the next day I scored a goal. And from there I didn’t stop, I went on to score in a lot of games. So I always tell her that it was because of her.”

The pair will reunite in Mendoza soon enough, and until then Castellanos will have his tattoo to remind him of his past, his present, and his future, one that he hopes will be littered with more accolades and success.