The border tug of war: Mexico courting U.S. talent is a 'good sign'

By Mike Woitalla

In 1998, the Mexican government changed its laws to allow dual citizenship, thus enabling U.S.-born Mexican-Americans to obtain Mexican citizenship. The measure, combined with the rise of the U.S. game, spurred aggressive scouting of U.S. youth with Mexican heritage by the Mexican federation.

Now we have a tug-of-war between the two giant neighbors for young talent. Sebastian Saucedo, an 18-year-old born in California and raised in Utah, played for the U.S. U-20 national team in a Serbia-hosted tournament in September and is currently with Mexico’s U-20s in a training camp that will include friendlies against Canada. (Both nations are starting their cycle for the 2017 U-20 World Cup.)

Saucedo appeared in nine MLS games (one start) this season for Real Salt Lake. Also in camp with Mexico is goalkeeper Christian Herrera, who like Saucedo played for the USA at the Serbia tournament and hails from Real Salt Lake's academy.

Saucedo and Herrera do not endanger their U.S. eligibility by attending the Mexico camp. They are considering their options, like many players before them, some who have ended up back in the U.S. national team program and others who have not.

Mexico’s 2013 U-20 World Cup team had three Mexican-Americans (goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, Uvaldo Luna and Julio Morales). Its 2015 U-20 World Cup team included FC Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez.

At the recent U-17 World Cup, where the USA exited in the first round, fourth-place Mexico’s squad included two USA products: starting goalkeeper Abraham Romero and outside back Edwin Lara.

Lara, a Northern Californian, was starting at outside back for the USA at the beginning of the last U-17 cycle before joining Mexican club Pachuca and the Mexican national team program. He was the youngest player, the only 16-year-old, on Mexico’s U-17 World Cup team and started in the 4-2 semifinal loss to eventual champion Nigeria. Romero started all of Mexico’s seven games.

U-17 World Cup finishes
2015 USA (group stage) Mexico (4th place)
2013 USA (did not qualify) Mexico (2nd place)
2011 USA (round of 16) Mexico (champion)
2009 USA (round of 16) Mexico (round of 16)

Lara and Romero, according to FIFA regulations, could still returned to the U.S. national team program.

It may be frustrating for U.S. coaches, but it’s reasonable for young players to explore their opportunities. And when they do, it might just provide them with experience that could ultimately benefit the U.S. national team program.

"If Mexico is coming to take our kids, that means that they know we have good players," says former U.S. U-15 coach and U.S. Soccer scout Hugo Perez. "That's a good sign. If we have good players, then give them good [soccer] so they don't have to leave."

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Perez’s quote comes from an in-depth piece on U.S. Soccer player development by Jeff Carlisle in which we also hear from former MLS star and current ESPN television analyst Taylor Twellman; U.S. U-20 men's coach and U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Advisor Tab Ramos; former U.S. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen; and Oscar Pareja, coach of FC Dallas, which leads MLS in signing homegrown players.

Carlisle points out that the U.S. Soccer Federation's Development Academy is in its ninth season. MLS academies have set down roots and begun producing professionals. MLS clubs are fielding reserve teams in the USL. But there is a sense that while the level of the average player has gone up, fewer Claudio Reynas and Landon Donovans are being produced.

Must-reading: “U.S, MLS and Klinsmann under pressure to deliver USMNT youth stars”

Sargent and Acosta shine at U.S. U-15 festival

During a 60-player gathering in Bradenton, Fla., of U-15 boys aiming to become part of the new cycle for the 2017 U-17 World Cup, Missouri product Josh Sargent scored five goals in three games.

Sargent, who plays for Scott Gallagher Missouri’s U-15/16 Development Academy team, played on the “Gold Cup” team that won the U.S. U-15 Festival with three wins. George Acosta, of Florida’s Weston FC, had two goals and three assists for Gold Cup.

Team "Gold Cup." (Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer)

U.S. U-15 boys national team: Festival game summaries and 60-player roster.

U.S. U-15 girls gather in Florida

The U.S. U-15 girls national team convenes for the fifth and final time of 2015 with 24 players in Sunrise, Fla., Nov. 20-27 under U.S. Soccer Women’s Development coach Mark Carr.

The squad, comprised of 22 players born in 2001 and two born in 2002, will continue as the U-15 team in 2016 before transitioning in 2017 to U-17s to form the core of the team that will attempt to qualify for the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

During the camp, the U-15s will play three games as part of the U.S. Youth Soccer ODP Girls Thanksgiving Interregional competition in Boca Raton, Fla. -- vs. Region II 1999s Nov. 23, Region 1 1999s Nov. 25 and Region IV 1999s on Friday, Nov. 27.

U.S. U-15 girls national team
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ryan Campbell (SoCal Blues; Dana Point, Calif.), Julia Dohle (NYSC; Scarsdale, N.Y.), Marzia Josephson (TFCA Alliance; Cary, N.C).
DEFENDERS (7): Sade Adamolekun (Lonestar SC; Spicewood, Texas), Tori Hansen (CASL; Raleigh, N.C.), Makenna Morris (Bethesda Tempo; Germantown, Md.), Leah Scarpelli (PDA; Brick, N.J.), Natalia Staude (Tophat SC; Marietta, Ga.), Kennedy Wesley (SoCal Blues; Rossmoor, Calif.).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Croix Bethune (Concorde Fire; Alpharetta, Ga.), Julia Burnell (Penn Fusion; Glen Mills, Pa.), Jordan Canniff (Richmond United; Calif., Md.), Mia Fishel (San Diego Surf; San Diego, Calif.), Sophia Jones (DeAnza Force; Menlo Park, Calif.), Madison Mercado (San Diego Surf; San Diego, Calif.), Hollyn Torres (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Taylor Tufts (Dallas Kicks; Southlake, Texas).
FORWARDS (7): Vanessa Buso (Legends FC; Corona. Calif.), Isabella D’Aquila (SoCal Blues; Orange, Calif.), Lia Godfrey (JFC Storm; Flemind Island, Fla.), Savianna Gomez (Beach Academy; Torrance, Calif.), Samantha Meza (Dallas Kicks; Balch Springs, Texas), Gabrielle Robinson (BRYC; Springfield, Va.), Kate Wiesner (Slammers FC; Monrovia, Calif.).

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The BBC reports that the percentage of club-trained players in English Premier League squads has reached a new low. Research by the CIES Football Observatory found 11.7% of top-flight players graduated from their club's academy, down from 13.8% last year. Across 31 top European divisions the figure has dropped below 20% for the first time since figures began in 2009. A "club-trained player" is defined by spending at least three seasons between the ages of 15 and 21 training with his current club.

11 comments about "The border tug of war: Mexico courting U.S. talent is a 'good sign'".
  1. VIC Aguilera, November 13, 2015 at 6:20 p.m.

    If they are as good as this article says they are they will end up playing for Mexico. There are better coaches and trainers in Mexico. After watching how JK has handled the few Mex-Amer. players that have played for the US, it has left a bad taste for future players that have dual Mex/Amer. citizenship.

  2. Joe Goss replied, November 16, 2015 at 1:44 p.m.

    Every player has a reason and it's often about the coaches they like (the ones who play them) and the ones they don't. Once they get deep into the system, like Lara, it's really hard to come out.

    And Mexico does love our youth GKs.

  3. cony konstin, November 13, 2015 at 6:26 p.m.

    In December it will be 41 years that I been coaching in the U.S. In those 41 years I have coached 1000s of Latino kids and 1000s of non Latino kids in the U.S. .... Our nation has come a long way but we still have a long way to go... I never forget 41 years ago that I had to show birth certificates before every game to prove that the Latino kids I was coaching were who they were on the passes so they could play. I also remember at Dallas cup when beat Manchester United and 1000s of spectators were calling my players dirty Mexicans and we should go back to our country when every kid on my team was born in the U.S. and all of them were Mexicans... So can you blame these kids leaving and going to play for Mexico... Our soccer and our nation need radical change... We need a revolution... We need new leadership with a 21st century vision for the future of all our kids... I highly recommend that people read this book.. The Healing of America by
    Marianne Williamson... This would be a good start.... Meanwhile Mike from SA will continue to make people aware of what is happening with soccer in U.S. And will continue to fight the good fight....

  4. R2 Dad, November 14, 2015 at 5:49 a.m.

    What I remember of Edwin Lara is that every time his name came up on the USU roster for camps or matches he was Unattached. If you're a talented player, which apparently he is, you'd think clubs would want you. Why would that be? Is that a signing bonus issue, bad advice? I can imagine the quid pro quo he was offered by Liga MX--am curious how this will all work out for him.

  5. Ric Fonseca, November 14, 2015 at 2:18 p.m.

    I share Cony K's comment as I also experienced similar situations, mind you not at the Dallas or Surf Cups, but during ayso "all star competitions" in the West LA/SM areas! However, I really do not or cannot fathom what I perceive to be "support" for what Mexico is doing and that is they're - for lack of a better word - poaching our players, mind you I too hold dual nationality/citizenship and have been in the trenches, and sure as hell want to see our, yes, OUR, Latino players stay on this side of the border, but as long as MLS, US Soccer, private for-profit outfits such as Alianza de futbol, pander and "market" our Latino players and have them "sign" on to Liga MX teams, then I can say, it serves us right. Now, do you really think that Liga MX teams really cannot find equal or better talent within Mexican borders? If you do, then I've a bridge to sell you cheap alongside some beach front property in Arizona!

  6. R2 Dad replied, November 15, 2015 at 1:20 a.m.

    Ric, truth be told "our" hispanics (in general) have better health, nutrition and education than those from Mexico--that's what Alianza is tapping in to.

  7. Ric Fonseca, November 15, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.

    R2, I do not understand what you have to find the need to say "our hispanics (sic)" as I find your terminology distasteful, and I'd like to know where you get the information about "better health, nutrition and education than those from Mexico..." As to what Alianza is tapping in to, is not that which it is after, and that is their bottom line. I and several other Latino coaches have looked into their goals and objectives, and have found they've obfuscated what was once hoped to have been a vehicle with which to ID - in your words "our hispanics" so that they may be further be scouted by not just the pro-side, but to hopefully steer them to a college environment.

  8. Joe Goss replied, November 16, 2015 at 1:42 p.m.


    These words actually came from a Mexican coach:

    "The States has become a very, very interesting place. We have at least 30 million Mexicans living there with a different kind of nutrition, a different kind of education. They are very strong, they are very well-educated. For me, the big problem in bringing in Americans is that they are very, very used to the American way of life. They want the mall, they want the ocean, they want all that and we don't have ocean in Pachuca, we don't have big malls... Southern California is the most interesting part, as well as Texas, Arizona."

  9. Ric Fonseca, November 16, 2015 at 3:13 p.m.

    Gracias again All American. Oh and by the way, while yes I agree that our nutrition, education, etc., but then again, they do have malls all over Mexico, and Pachuca is just north of Mexico City, in the state of Hidalgo, and no, while the nearest beaches are in the Gulf Coast, hey, they DO have malls. Anyhow just saying... but we do have some of the very best of Mexican food (nutrition) in LA, Texas, Arizona, and yes, again, Pachuca has an excellent training facility (in fact Pachuca was the first or one of the very first futbol-soccer clubs that was founded when the Brits were working the silver mines there) and the club is cut throat - as are many other Liga MX clubs.

  10. Ric Fonseca, November 16, 2015 at 3:19 p.m.

    All American, I forgot to also send kudos to you for your last four sentences of your previous comment, but know what? IMO somehow we MUST educate our players, ALL of them from ALL walks of life to the pitfalls of being lured away from home (a la Alianza, and other self-serving groups) and not just south of the border, but to the UK, Europe, etc. all to, in many occasions, satisfy the whims of a parent, who think their kid is the next Cristiano, Messi, Neymar, or Chicharito. I personally know of one case, then again, this is a story for a rainy day.

  11. Ric Fonseca, November 19, 2015 at 11:52 p.m.

    All American: ""Mexican Americans are hungry for the next great to come out of USA and follow this big time...(sic)" I really do not where you get this bit of info, because from where I am, e.g. South Gate, and other parts of the Los Angeles area, I've yet to come across many, maybe I should say, "any" "carnales" Latino or Mexican Americans that know about this mega buck Alianza group, and as for sponsors,yeah they come a beggin' with deep pockets in order to market their product in the country's largest and continuing to grow buying market. I do agree with you that "players are not always steered to make the best decisions for themselves or their future...(sic)" this last sentence being the best description for Alianza as their only concern is their bottom line. Obviously there is a helluva lot more to this story, perhaps for a rainy day.

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