[INTERVIEW] Among Mexican clubs scouring the USA for Mexican-American talent, none is more ambitious than Tigres UANL, the Monterrey club has 16 U.S. products in its youth program. Tigres’ Director of Youth Development, the Dutchman Dennis Te Kloese, explains why his club believes in talent from the north and how its program benefits U.S. soccer ...
Te Kloese joined Tigres two years ago from Chivas USA, where he set up the MLS club’s youth program after the franchise launched in 2005. He had previously worked at Chivas Guadalajara.
SOCCER AMERICA: Why does Tigres have so many players from the USA?
DENNIS TE KLOESE: When I worked in the U.S., I saw there’s an incredible talent pool in the U.S.
Working for Tigres, I’m trying to take advantage of the knowledge and contacts that I have in the U.S. It’s also common sense.
We’re relatively close to the border [less than 200 miles]. … There’s more than 20 million people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. You can’t think there’s not talented players there and we have a few who I think are very talented.
SA: What’s the advantage for a young U.S. player to go to Mexico?
TE KLOESE:There’s things that are very good in the U.S. and there’s a few things that Mexico maybe has a little bit of an advantage.
I think at Tigres we have a system that allows for a smoother transition from the youth level to the pro level.
An 18-year-old kid can be the very best on his MLS academy league team, but it’s very difficult for him to make a big difference in MLS. It’s difficult for him to get playing time and to get confidence to get better.
They need a lot of playing time and competition -- but competition within reason. It’s difficult with an MLS club when suddenly you go from youth soccer to competing with a Designated Player.
Not everything’s perfect in Mexico. Not by far. But our U-20s and U-17s play the same schedule as the first team. Our U-20s won the league last season and are first at the moment.
SA: So the U-20 team serves as the reserve team?
TE KLOESE: Right. When our first team travels to San Luis, our U-20s go to San Luis. You can drop a few players down from the first team to the U-20s.
The U-20s play in the stadium before the first-team game. The U-17s play in the training ground in the morning.
Last week they played Chivas. The week before they traveled to Puebla. They played the clasico, the local derby against Monterrey, the week before that.
SA: MLS hopes to bring back a reserve league, but in the meanwhile, promising young players who aren’t good enough to crack the first team aren’t getting enough competitive games?
TE KLOESE:It’s hard for MLS coaches to give a lot of attention to young players who all of a sudden end up in the first team roster -- because there’s a big need for results from the first team and MLS is getting more and more competitive. It has more teams now and it's getting harder to make the playoffs.
Young players need a little bit of patience and they’re not very consistent in their performances in general.
We have the ability of being more patient. If there’s one guy who really did have a bad game against Chivas one week, we still play him against San Luis’ under-20 the next week. Because we see something in the guy. He shows some qualities. He needs a little time to adapt. Maybe we need to try him in another position. Maybe we have to train him a few things. Maybe he just lacks some information.
They don’t have to go from step one to 10 in a year, then from 10 to 50 in a week or so.
SA: Edgar Castillo and Jose Francisco Torres went to Mexico as youth players (to Santos and Pachuca, respectively) and were eventually called up by the U.S. national team. Three of Tigres’ Mexican-American players -- Moises Orozco, Emilio Orozco and Victor Garza -- have been called up by the U.S. U-20 national team. Tigres' Pablo Oceguaeda has been with the U.S. U-18s. So it seems that Mexican clubs’ youth programs can benefit the U.S. national team program …
TE KLOESE: Our club has a good relationship with the Mexican federation and U.S. Soccer. We provide our players the chance to attend national team camps and games.
There are clubs in Mexico that rather see their players go to the Mexican federation only. We have an open policy and we want to be clear to players that it’s their decision who they want to play with, Mexico or the USA. At the point they decide, we support them.
Our Mexican-American players are well taken care of, get good competition and training, and when they go into a U.S. camp arrive in good shape.
SA: At what point do players at Tigres start getting paid?
TE KLOESE:You could pay them at 16 years old. It’s up to each club how long to leave them amateur or when to give them a professional contract.
I try to be careful with Mexican-Americans, because if you put them on a pro contract, they lose college eligibility and won’t have that option if they’re not good enough here and have to go back to the U.S.
If you’re a U-20 player, you’ve already gone through so many filters that at one point you have to sign a contract. Otherwise, they’re exposed to agents and other clubs to take them away.
SA: You have U.S. players in the program from ages 17 to 20. What does the club provide them in general?
TE KLOESE: We have two houses [dormitories] close to the club in a nice residential area. They get housing. They get food. In most of the cases we provide them schooling. The club has a relationship with a university in Monterrey.
Sometimes we provide them travel back and forth to their family. It depends a little bit on the socio-economic level of the family and where he comes from. We try to help out as much as possible.
We have a Spanish teacher. We try to make it comfortable for them off the field because it’s a big step for somebody to leave their country and leave their family to come in here and sleep in a dormitory and train everyday and be evaluated every so often.
We have a doctor. Someone who takes care of nutrition. There’s 24-hour security. They’re all costly things but I think it’s worth the investment and so does the club.