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 ESPNFC.com 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.
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.