Interview by Mike Woitalla
Claudio Suarez, Mexico's most capped played with 178 appearances, finished his career in 2009 with Chivas USA. He now resides in Southern California, where he runs the Delfines LA youth academy. Last May he became vice president of Mexican first division club Queretaro. We caught up with the man nicknamed "El Emperador" at the StubHub Center where Queretaro was among 16 Mexican clubs scouting young U.S. talent at the National Finals of the Alianza de Futbol identification program.
SOCCER AMERICA: What are your thoughts on Mexico’s struggles in World Cup qualifying?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: Everybody is worried. Nobody thought we would be almost out of the World Cup at this point, but I’m hopeful about the last two games and the new coach [Victor Manuel Vucetich].
SA: What’s been the problem?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: Overconfidence.
SA: Not long ago it seemed that all was going so well for Mexico -- Olympic gold winners in 2012, in 2011 Gold Cup champs, U-17 World Cup winners, U-20 World Cup third-place finishers ... Do the national team’s woes indicate that maybe Mexico isn’t on the right track?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: No, it’s just a bump in the road. The league is very strong. We have a lot a players playing abroad. It’s not that Mexico is doing a bad job.
SA: How do you rate the current U.S. national team to when you played against the USA?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: They’ve improved a lot in all aspects. Technically they’re much better. They used to rely more on fitness, but now there’s more technique.
They have more experience. They have a lot of foreign-based players.
SA: How do you remember your three years at Chivas USA?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: It was a very good experience to play here. It’s a young league that’s growing. There are more teams, it’s becoming more competitive and has more quality players.
SA: How did you like playing under Bob Bradley at Chivas USA?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: He had good ideas, was very well organized. He was very respectful of Mexican players and we had a good group of Mexican and American players who worked well together. His were the best years at Chivas USA.
SA: What’s your opinion of the current Chivas USA?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: They made some bad decisions and now they have to recover.
SA: Why are Mexican clubs so ambitiously scouting Mexican-American talent?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: I’m convinced there’s very good talent in the USA. If you bring in a player from the USA they’re fitter and stronger. They don’t come from a very poor background, so they eat better than the kids in Mexico.
Youth soccer in Mexico outside the professional clubs is not well organized and the amateur level is poor. It’s not as structured as in the USA. The one who succeeds in Mexico really did it by himself.
SA: Does Queretaro have Mexican-Americans in its ranks?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: We have two, and two more are coming.
SA: When you’re scouting young players, how do you judge whether they have the potential to succeed in the Mexican league?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: We look primarily for talent, no matter what position they play. How they handle the ball -- how well they position themselves. Discipline. Attitude. Even if he’s a really good player, if he’s not disciplined we can’t work with him.
It doesn’t really matter how big and strong they are. For sure, there are some positions where we look for height and strength, like central defender and center forward, but when we scout kids we're looking for talent above all.
SA: What advice would you offer coaches of 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: Most important is that they have fun. At that age it’s just about letting them enjoy the sport.
SA: Advice for parents?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: Don’t force them. If they enjoy it, support them. My son doesn’t like soccer. He likes music. Support them in whatever they like.
SA: What would you tell young players aspiring to become pro soccer players?
CLAUDIO SUAREZ: Being a professional is not always fun. It does demand sacrifice. A lot of times you're alone, not with your family. There’s a lot of travel.
But there is a lot of satisfaction. It’s a beautiful profession. I was blessed during my career.
It’s important to disciplined and very strong-minded -- because there’s a lot of pressure -- but enjoy it at the same time.