[AMERICANS ABROAD] U.S. under-20 international Benji Joya became the latest Mexican-American to debut in the Mexican First Division when he played last weekend in Santos' 0-0 draw against Jaguares. Joya, a product of Development Academy program De Anza Force, is one of three U-20s from Northern California to join Santos.
Joya, who just turned 19, has been at Santos for less than a year, so his rise is quite remarkable. He is an attacking midfielder by trade but has been playing right wing for Santos.
He was torn between going to college -- he was recruited by Cal State Bakersfield -- and turning pro after finishing high school in 2011. He was also torn being staying at home -- where he helped his mother with her janitorial business -- and going to Mexico, where his parents were born.
Joya attended Overfelt High School in San Jose but often went to school with four hours of sleep while working with his mother.
He has been helped at Santos by American star Herculez Gomez.
“He’s been a good friend and a great teammate,” Joya told Brian Sciaretta of the New York Times. “I asked him for some tips and he has helped me a lot. He’s been pushing me.”
The other U-20s at Santos are Daniel Cuevas, who played for California Development Academy, andJesus Guzman, who was in the San Jose Earthquakes' academy. The three U-20s were spotted by California-based agent Maximiliano Roditis.
Torreon, Santos' hometown, is notorious for the violence that has swept the city in Mexico's drug war, but Joya said he was comfortable living at the club's training complex.
Mexican-American Pro Debuts
2006 Sammy Ochoa, UAG (age 19)
2006 Edgar Castillo, Santos (age 19)
2006 Jesus Padilla, Guadalajara (age 19)
2006 Michael Orozco, San Luis (age 20)
2006 Sonny Guadarrama, Santos (age 19)
2006 Jose Torres, Pachuca (age 19)
2012 Greg Garza, Tijuana (age 21)
2012 Gustavo Ruelas, Jaguares (age 19)
2012 Benji Joya, Santos (age 19)
Note:Debuts in Division I.