By Mike Woitalla
Jose Nino's hopes of attending a four-year college hit a roadblock. The $11,000 from Pell and Cal Grants the 18-year-old is eligible for doesn't cover all the college costs.
“My parents have basically no money,” says Nino, who’s worked in a restaurant since age 16.
So he’s here at the Fremont Soccer Complex near San Francisco among 350 teenagers for Alianza de Futbol’s open tryouts, hoping to impress scouts from Mexican pro clubs.
Kevin Partida, 16, lives in Reno. His father saw ads for the Alianza event on Fox Deportes and drove his son four hours to the Bay Area.
“I hope to reach my goal of being a pro to open the gates for my siblings and people from my city who don’t get looked at a lot,” Partida wrote on his Alianza registration form.
Alianza holds these tryouts in 14 U.S. cities. The top players advance to four regional all-star games with Alianza covering travel expenses. From there, 18 players are picked for the National All-Star game against Chivas Guadalajara’s U-18 squad. A game against an MLS squad is also planned.
The Alianza events are combined with youth and adult tournaments and clinics that help attract the sponsors who fund the tryout portion. At the Fremont event, 400 children attend the Sunday morning clinic that features Mexican hero Jorge Campos. (Kids signed up for the clinic at the stores of sponsor Verizon.)
The main attraction for the teens (born 1991-1995) trying out are scouts from Mexican clubs. The Alianza organizers lament the negligible response they’ve gotten from college coaches or U.S. Soccer scouts. There were no signs of college coaches in Fremont, but Hugo Perez, the great U.S. playmaker of the 1980s and early 90s, and now a U.S. Soccer scout, is here.
The selection process goes rapidly. After each 30-minute game, the scouts call out the names of those who progress while the rest return their pinnies.
Making the decisions, in addition to Perez, are scouts from Chivas Guadalajara (Arturo Espinosa), Club Tijuana (Arturo Ramirez), and Enrique Echeverria, the Mexican federation’s scout for its U-17 national team.
Since U.S.-born Mexican-Americans became eligible for Mexican citizenship, Chivas Guadalajara has brought several U.S.-born players into its program, including current first-team starter Miguel Ponce, and Julio Morales, whom it discovered through Alianza and who now plays for Guadalajara’s U-20 team
Club Tijuana earned promotion to the top flight last season thanks much to the feats of Joe Benny Corona, an L.A. native. And when Mexico won the 2011 World Cup, its goalkeeper was Richard Sanchez, born in California and raised in Texas.
“Considering how much Mexican-American talent there is in the USA, it makes perfect sense for us to look here,” says Echeverria. “Whenever we hear a rumor about a Mexican-American talent, whether in Dallas or anywhere in the USA, we come and check him out. We usually hear about them from Mexican clubs who are scouting in the USA.”
If Echeverria sees potential stars in the USA, he recommends them to Mexican clubs.
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After the last game at the Alianza event in Northern California on Saturday, the names of the final 18 players who will on Sunday play a San Jose Earthquakes youth academy team are being called out as the players sit on the grass.
Jose Nino’s name is not called. He says he will attend a junior college this semester and keep trying to get into a four-year school. He doesn’t play adult league soccer because he has to work on Sundays. He shakes the scouts’ hands, says good-bye, and leaves the field.
Partida plays club ball in Reno for Sagebrush SC. Two years ago, he attended ODP and was selected for the state team but dropped out after it became too expensive.
He stands about 5-foot-6 and impresses all the scouts at the Alianza tryouts. He patrols the midfield in Sunday’s game against the Quakes’ team, darting away from foes and striking crisp, accurate passes.
After the game, the Quakes' coaches invite Partida and four other Alianza players to attend their next three practices sessions to vie for a spot on their U.S. Soccer Development Academy team. But Partida reveals to Quakes coach Marquis White that he can’t make it, because he lives in Reno.
White, sensing the boy’s disappointment in getting an invite he can’t accept, jokes to Partida about moving to San Jose, but the boy shakes his head without managing a smile.
Now Espinosa and Ramirez are gathering groups of players to invite them for extended trials at their clubs. The players will live in the clubs’ academy dorms and be evaluated during two weeks of training.
Partida gets an invite from Chivas Guadalajara, says he looks forward to the trip and tryout, and finally cracks a smile.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)