Why Mexico has been so successful

By Mike Woitalla

It's five days after Mexico won the 2012 Olympic gold medal. Scouts from 11 Mexican pro clubs and three representatives of the Mexican federation (FMF) are eying players from ages 13 to 18.

The scouts sit in a stadium 460 miles north of the Mexican border -- in San Francisco, Calif. The players they’re evaluating are U.S. products, mainly Mexican-Americans, who have reached the finals of the 10-city Alianza de Futbol tryouts, a project co-founded by Brad Rothenberg to discover young U.S. Latino talent.  Most interested in players who come to these free tryouts have been the Mexican scouts, who this year invited more than 50 Alianza players to trials.

Mexican soccer is on a roll, yet Mexican clubs and the FMF continue scouring the USA for talent.

Besides the Olympic gold, Mexico has since June 2011 won the Concacaf Gold Cup, U-17 World Cup, Pan-American Games, Toulon Espoirs tournament and Northern Ireland Milk Cup and finished third at the 2011 U-20 World Cup.

At the San Francisco Alianza event, I spoke to most of the club scouts, and the FMF’s Dennis Te Kloese, to get their take on why Mexico has been so successful of late. The key ingredient, they concurred, was close cooperation between the FMF and the Mexico’s professional clubs.

A decade ago, the Federation mandated that Mexico’s pro clubs invest in youth programs.

“Before that, some of the clubs had good youth programs,” said Atlante’s Mario Garcia. “Now, out of 18 [first division clubs], 15 have a good or excellent youth program.”

Club America’s Jose Luis Arce said, “Before, investing in youth players was optional and nothing stopped clubs from just buying foreign players rather than developing young Mexican players.”

The first sign of major progress came when Mexico won its first world championship in 2005, the U-17 World Cup. But the Federation kept pushing. That year it introduced the rule known as Regla 20/11, which required first division teams to give at least 1,000 minutes of action to players under the age of 20 years, 11 months, during a season or be penalized with points subtractions. Players such as current Tri stars Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Chivas) and Andres Guardado (Atlas) established themselves during the Regla 20/11 era.

The Regla 20/11 was dropped in 2011 because it was no longer necessary, said Te Kloese and Pachuca’s Sporting Director Marco Garces, because clubs now have more faith in young players.

“They stopped it because it’s not needed anymore,” said Garces. “The clubs are using youngsters all the time. It was important to make us see you don’t lose quality.”

Another crucial move was to establish national U-17 and U-20 leagues. When top tier teams play league games, their youth teams play in the same stadium before the game.

“Thanks to the U-17 and U-20 leagues, so many young players have come to the surface who otherwise were in the second or third division,” Te Kloese said. “They weren’t really looked it.

“Before, the young players were a little bit out of sight. Now the head coach walks on the field, there’s a game going on and he gets to know the players. When he sees the same player is doing something impressive a few games in a row, he knows this is a guy to give a chance to.”

Teams can field up to four older players in U-20 games, which gives playing time to those in their early 20s who aren’t seeing first-team action. And professional clubs also compete with each other at lower age groups. There’s a U-15 league and even some U-13 competition.

“They play each other, which basically obligates the clubs to scout more and to do a better job on their program,” Te Kloese says. “To have more interest youth programs because now they’re competing publicly against each other.”

Said Cruz Azul’s Hector Pinto, “There is an order we didn’t have. There’s an identification process so we know where players come from and where they go. It’s much more competitive at the youth level than it used to be.”

Garces says the youth leagues have aided the national team program’s identification process: “Now the best players are in the national team. I don’t think that was the case before.”

Club America’s Arce says Mexico’s U-17 World Cup triumph in 2005 played a role in the rise.

“It created confidence collectively,” he said. “Not just in the players, but coaches and media. There was no longer the sense that Mexico couldn’t win anything. And now we have better training, better scouting.”

The club coaches say the Federation doesn’t dictate to them how they should coach their youth, or what formations to play, but Garces says there’s a general agreement of how Mexican soccer should be played.

“I think there’s an overall respect for the game, for the ball,” Garces said. “We all try to play out of the back. We try to play a more sophisticated type of soccer in the sense of having the ball, not losing possession. In general, there are always clubs that try different things. But overall the style of play in Mexico is to try and hold possession and to try and create chances. It’s positive for development."

* * *

'BETTER GRIP.' Before joining the Mexican federation and serving as Director of Youth Development for Tigres, for which he recruited several American products, Te Kloese worked with Chivas USA in 2005-08, setting up its youth program.

“Obviously, everything is not better and nice in Mexico,” said the Dutchman. “We’re just taking our first steps, we’re still far from being there, and need to keep improving, capitalize on what we’ve achieved, make sure we keep working hard.

“It’s not so easy. But the Federation has basically taken advantage of the talent there is and people are on the same page. … Maybe in Mexico we have a little bit better grip on things. Because historically [in the USA] you have all these factions -- colleges, high schools, enemies, politics …”

Although the U.S. national team program’s record in recent years pales in comparison to Mexico’s success -- the USA failed to qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup and the 2012 Olympic Games (a U-23 competition) -- Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team did pull off a historic upset four days after the gold medal game when it beat Mexico, 1-0, at Azteca Stadium.

The first win on Mexican soil was notable for the USA fielding five Mexican-American players, at least four of which -- including scorer Michael Orozco Fiscal -- would not have reached the U.S. national team had they not been recruited by Mexican clubs while teenagers. The Mexican scouts in San Francisco say they see no problem if players they help develop end up playing against Mexico.

“I think it’s positive because, besides our obligation to our national team, we have a bigger obligation to our clubs and our job is to find the best players we can find,” says Garces, whose Pachuca has had 24-year-old Jose Torres since he left Texas at age 16.

“It’s good to give players chances,” Arce said. “It’s good for the game. … Some might play for Mexico, some for the USA. It’s up to them to decide.”

Then he looks at the U-19 Alianza finalists playing on the Kezar Stadium field and says, “I wonder why American teams don’t realize they have all these good players here.”

Alianza de Futbol Web site, Facebook, Twitter.
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at

9 comments about "Why Mexico has been so successful".
  1. Joseph Pratt, September 26, 2012 at 9:52 a.m.

    I wonder, were any USSF scouts or US clubs at the Alianza tryouts? And this quote is telling: “I wonder why American teams don’t realize they have all these good players here.” I can tell you that, as a youth soccer coach in Chicago, I am all too aware of how many good Mexican-American players there are! Hopefully they will find their way into the US player pool and some day play for our YNTs or even the MNT.

  2. Walt Pericciuoli, September 26, 2012 at 10:25 a.m.

    You are correct Joseph,I'm sure all our scouts can't waste their time at the Alianza tryouts when they are so busy scouting the Academy teams and college teams where the current US system of player development has been so "successful" lately finding talent.Time is moves on,nothing is changing.We really can't expect the results will change.

  3. Luis Arreola, September 26, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.

    Excellent article that everyone should read and analyze. I too am a coach in Chicago and have seen everything from Alianza tryouts to Academy scouting. I ran into Denise at Schaumburg Olympic fields near Chicago this year where he was scouting a 97' player. That player who had previously not been scouted before by USA was immediately put on the U15 USA national team a month after. At Alianza tryouts in July in Chicago the U15 Mexican. N National Coach was r

  4. Luis Arreola, September 26, 2012 at 11:26 a.m.

    Sorry, the U15 National coach for Mexico ran this years Alianza tryouts I. JULY in Chicago where scouts for America, Chivas, Morleia, etc. USA Academy, MLS, USSF Scouts= ZERO.

  5. Alberto Mora, September 26, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.

    Once again I'll repeat what I have always said the US never apreciate the latino player, I have coached futbol here since 1986 and time after when the time for try outs arrives I have found the large number of youth clubs are reluctant to open the oportunity for the latino kids specially if their parents don't have the means to have them playing. The work of Alianza is excellent and now since the US National team has a real Coach(Jurgen Klinsmann) since Bora I hope the time to hate the latinos specially the mexicans come to the end.

  6. Daniel Carusi, September 26, 2012 at 2:37 p.m.

    Great revealing article. What amazes me is that American youth soccer is still geared towards those who can afford a travel squad, and there have to be numerous talented players and their families who never attempt to join "organized" soccer because of the perceived cost. Moreover, until we see 5 and 6 and 7 year olds playing soccer in parks or on the streets WITHOUT COACHES the players will never develop the culture of individuality and comfort on the ball that we see even American players at the national level do not have.

  7. Luis Arreola, September 27, 2012 at 9:30 a.m.

    Daniel, these same families adjust and join least expensive clubs and leagues where you will see other Academy parents scouting for players to improve their t$$ teams. These kids get sucked in with a "free" ride but soon get surprised by all kinds of fees and "club volunteer work" until it becomes too much. You can always find a little Messi at these leagues but most of them never leave these low budget leagues and conform to getting $100-$200 to play on some betting Hispanic teams when hey hit 17+ years old.

  8. Geoffrey Zenio, September 28, 2012 at 6:43 p.m.

    There were US Soccer scouts at this tryout, the US training center players played against allianza and Hugo Perez and Ben Ziemer were there coaching and scouting - some of them - these too - like hispanic players

  9. Bill Anderson, September 29, 2012 at 12:07 p.m.

    I used to have a full head of hair, but now after coaching high school soccer for 17 years, I've pulled it all out. Why? Frustration at the lack of understanding from college coaches and USSF to come out and find the talent. When I look at the amount of talent playing every Tuesday and Friday night in the state of Texas, and then see players who are only marginally skilled on the National Team Rosters and in MLS it makes me reach for my ROGAINE!

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