Commentary

Is FIFA protecting or impeding Mexican-American players?

By Mike Woitalla

Mexican clubs heavily scouting the USA for Mexican-American talent has been one of the greatest developments in U.S. soccer history.

For one, it put to rest any claims that the U.S. player identification system wasn’t neglecting Latino talent.

We would never have heard of New Mexico’s Edgar Castillo or Texan Jose Francisco Torres if they hadn’t moved south of the border as teens. Both have won multiple titles in Mexico and helped the USA win its last Gold Cup, in 2013.

And it also created a wider range of opportunities for young talent, especially vital a decade ago -- before MLS clubs starting investing millions of dollars into youth development and providing cost-free elite youth soccer, and before the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

Historically, Mexican-American players were marginalized for various reasons. The pay-to-play U.S. youth soccer industry shut out countless talented players, regardless of ethnicity. College coaches were hardly interested in recruiting Latino players. And having the majority of influential U.S. coaches being from a Northern European school of coaching created another barrier.

Then a new door opened for the young Latino player.

In 1998, the Mexican government changed its laws to allow dual citizenship, thus enabling U.S.-born Mexican-Americans to obtain Mexican citizenship. Before that, Mexican clubs were unlikely to use their limited foreign player spots on U.S. products over South Americans.

Mexican clubs, well aware of the rise of the U.S. game, deduced there must be Mexican-Americans worth assessing. The success of Castillo and Torres encouraged them even more. Castillo, who played for Mexico before switching to the USA, won league titles with Santos and Tijuana. In addition to his two league titles, Torres, who was also courted by the Mexican national team program, won three Concacaf Champions League titles. Castillo and Torres did not cost a transfer fee, as would an Argentine, Chilean or Colombian.

Castillo moved to Mexico at age 18, but Torres was only 16 when he went to Tigres. At age 15, Arizona product Ventura Alvarado, who has 13 caps since debuting for the USA in 2015, moved to Club America, for which he started in its 2014 Liga MX Apertura final win.

Many other Mexican-Americans under age 18 have signed with Mexican clubs, including Californian Edwin Lara, who starred on the USA’s U-17 national team before moving to Pachuca and playing for Mexico at the 2015 U-17 World Cup. Joe Gallardo, who played for the USA at the same U-17 World Cup, moved from San Diego’s Nomads to Monterrey in 2012.

Now comes the news, reported by ESPNFC.com's Tom Marshall, that Liga MX clubs are to stop importing Mexican-Americans under age 18 because it violates FIFA's rules for international transfers involving minors.

FIFA introduced Article 19, “Protection of Minors,” in 2001 in reaction to what was described as human trafficking in soccer. The examples came mainly from African and South American children who were promised stardom in Europe but, in the extreme cases, ended up living in squalor in faraway foreign countries away from their families.

In Marshall’s follow-up, he writes that Mexican soccer federation (FMF) president Decio de Maria has admitted that Liga MX clubs may have violated FIFA's transfer rules as they stand, “but is seeking clarity from the governing body due to the complex situation surrounding dual Mexico-U.S. nationals.”

"FIFA knows about our reality and we are in a process of [reaching an] understanding," De Maria said. "I repeat, the rule is made generally and here we are talking about something specific that isn't comparable with clubs over there [in Europe]."

(Tijuana Xolos can continue to recruit in Southern California under the current regulations because Article 19 allows players to sign with a foreign club if the player lives no more than 30 miles from the border and the club is no more than 30 miles from the border.)

FIFA’s rules on the transfer of minors also make an exception for European Union countries, lowering the age to 16.

Alianza de Futbol in 2008 launched a scouting program for U.S. Latino talent that attracts scouts from nearly all Liga MX clubs and Mexico’s national team program, and also invites scouts from MLS clubs, U.S. Soccer and college. Numerous players under age 18 have signed with Liga MX clubs via Alianza, which released a statement on FIFA applying Article 19 to Mexican-Americans that includes:

“While FIFA’s Article 19 was created for very good reasons, exceptions were created, also for very good reasons. And now it’s time for FIFA to create another exception for player transfers between the U.S. and Mexico.

“All of the players under 18 receiving interest from Liga MX teams are dual citizens with both U.S. and Mexican citizenship or just Mexican citizenship. We do not believe that it was or is FIFA’s intent to deprive anyone of opportunities to pursue their soccer dreams in countries of which they are a citizen.

“Imagine being a Mexican-American living in Los Angeles, a lifelong Liga MX fan and having FIFA tell you that your 16-year-old son can’t play for a team in Liga MX in the country of your birth, of which your son is also a citizen. We don’t believe that this is consistent with the spirit of Article 19, or the situations for which it was created.”

As any case, in any country, only a very small percentage of players who join a pro youth academy succeed to make the first team. U.S. clubs, no doubt frustrated with losing talent, complain of greedy agents scouring the USA for players with promises that don’t meet expectations.

But at the same time, Mexican clubs, whose youth teams play in highly competitive national leagues, do have a good reputation of developing talent, as reflected by Mexico’s success at youth World Cups.

There’s also no doubt that Mexican clubs have unearthed U.S. talent that had been neglected. And the U.S. national team program benefits from the experience of players who join Mexican clubs with solid development programs and return to play for the USA.

What matters most, of course, is what’s best for the player. Even with the Development Academy, and with MLS having vastly improved its youth programs and reserve team system, there will be players without access to those clubs. There will continue to be Latino talent more appreciated south of the border than in the USA.

So is FIFA protecting or impeding young Mexican-American players by banning them from moving before age 18?

FIFA claiming the jurisdiction to deny a person a chance to pursue a career in the nation of which he’s a citizen is in itself worthy of scrutiny.

What if you were a U.S. citizen living abroad -- in Mexico, or Africa or Europe, or anywhere -- and you wanted your U.S. citizen child to move the USA to take an apprenticeship – perhaps even while living near extended family -- how would you react if told you didn’t have the right to make that happen?

Yet FIFA does have the power to dictate transfer rules between pro clubs because the clubs have to follow the sport’s world governing body’s regulations.

A sensible compromise would be to amend Article 19 for the Mexico-USA situation as it does for EU nations, and allow moves at the age of 16.

To enforce Article 19’s rule on Mexican-American players at age 18 is a disservice to Latino players unless we’re sure that they have sufficient opportunities within the United States. I do not believe, although there’s been significant progress, that we’re there yet.

21 comments about "Is FIFA protecting or impeding Mexican-American players?".
  1. ROBERT BOND, April 14, 2016 at 11:16 a.m.

    not like our colleges are going to pamper these kids the way they do in CFB & CBK...

  2. Ian Barker, April 14, 2016 at 11:51 a.m.

    Very interesting piece. Kudos on the reporting and the take away. An example of good intentions backfiring when governance is applied in the wrong context.
    I would enjoy more article of this nature.

  3. Lisa Lavelle, April 14, 2016 at 11:56 a.m.

    Great article!!

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, April 14, 2016 at 7:33 p.m.

    Thank you Lisa. You're the author of that manual on how to get colleges to notice you if you're a graduating high school senior, aren't you? If so, do you have ANY plans to translate the manual into Spanish? Could help!

  5. Robert Parr, April 14, 2016 at 12:18 p.m.

    Mike, I agree with your conclusion (the "sensible compromise" would be to "allow moves at the age of 16"), and think you hit most of the relevant points here. However, the root cause of this dynamic stems from US Soccer's violation of FIFA statutes that require payment of solidarity and training compensation to clubs.

    Make that change, and the pay-to-play model will quickly evolve to a merit-based, free-to-play model for those clubs that are scouting and developing high-quality pro prospects...regardless of ethnicity. It also means that the Mexican clubs won't be quick to abuse marginal prospects by recruiting them away from families in the US and then discarding them a few months later, after burning their NCAA eligibility. Once the clubs have to make a payment for US kids like they do everyone else's, then they will apply greater scrutiny to make sure the players they bring are really the most-likely prospects to succeed. That brings about the best balance for everyone.

  6. R2 Dad, April 14, 2016 at 12:25 p.m.

    Good piece, Mike, on an important issue in youth soccer. I don't think the problem is whether kids should be allowed to play in Mexico, it's whether you can allow Americans or people living in America to sign a contract at 16 in another country that they cannot sign in the US. That undermines US law, since minors can't sign until 18 in this country and this would put MLS/US Soccer at a disadvantage. I imagine this will help US Soccer/MLS rationalize their false assertion that all training/solidarity fees must stay with MLS in order to offer as much opportunity to these players as possible. But everyone here knows these players get looked over by Academies and MLS. Alianza provides a useful channel for a few of these players to develop. I hope they come up with a remedy that keeps that door open. The US/Mexico national team issues down the road should not drive this determination.

  7. R2 Dad replied, April 14, 2016 at 12:38 p.m.

    AA, I thought as a US citizen you were not allowed to hold dual citizenship after the age of 18. Was that never the case, or has it changed? I don't know.

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, April 14, 2016 at 7:48 p.m.

    Ok, here are my two-bits worth: First, the Mexican Law everyone is reading about came around the late '90s. When it was formally announced that the Mexican Congress had passed the law and implemented, I decided to apply to recuperate my Mexican nationality. As some of you know I was born in Mexico, came here legally in '50, did the school thing, and when I became of age I enlisted in the US Military, and in '64 became a naturalized citizen. I then "gave up my Mexican nationality" (and as I was told, by the Counsel General in Chicago NOT my rights to my Mexican citizenship.) Fast forward to the new Law, I then decided to apply to recover my nationality which I did and was granted, thus I assumed dual nationality. All I had to present was proof I was born in Mexico, birth certificate and passport. I was subsequently also issued the proper documentation and also a valid Mexican passport. I am, therefore of dual nationality, and by virtue of being born in Mexico, both my son and daughter are eligible to apply for Mexican nationality, and thus have dual nationality. And because my wife was born in Puerto Rico, the same applies to them, however, my wife must apply for Mexican nationality and must wait the requisite five years. Both of my children are thus eligible to play for Mexico or Puerto Rico - highly unlikely now, but the matter is still open. As for FIFA well, one MUST also consider that virtually ALL of Europe share contiguous borders, while the US shares its borders with Canada and Mexico; this said, does the rule also applies for Canadian players, or American players being recruited by either country? does the US and Canada share a dual nationality law, or recognizes US-Canadian nationality? In this matter while Mexico recognizes Mexican-US dual nationality, does the US afford the same courtesy? I believe it does, however, I'd like to refer to MW's statement that "...it puts to rest any claim that the US player identification system wasn't neglecting Latino (read; Mexican American) talent...(sic)" How true!

  9. cony konstin, April 14, 2016 at 1:13 p.m.

    Here is the main issue.. The MLS, Mexico, European Clubs do not want to pay development fees. Why? Because USSF for years have been using bogus rules to prevent US youth clubs from getting compensated. USSF has been protecting the MLS from paying the U.S. Youth clubs in getting development fees. Which FIFA law protects all clubs to get developmental fees. It is time for a new regime change... We need a new vision. New leadership. And a 21st century master plan... U.S. youth teams must be compensated...

  10. Michael McDonald, April 14, 2016 at 2:14 p.m.

    Great Article!
    Question--
    What are the FIFA rules about youth development or drafting for a teen player who lives in Mexico, is a permanent resident, has trained in Mexico for 10+ years but is a Canadian Citizen? Is he eligible for liga mx team selection? If not, is he eligible to be recruited to Canada at age 16, for instance, even though it means being more than 3000km away from his home?

  11. Lou vulovich, April 14, 2016 at 2:35 p.m.

    The rule was put in place due to agents going to Africa and bringing youth players to Europe and abandoning them. The rule states under 18 a player can not move from one country to another for soccer specific reasons.
    Dual citizenship does not matter. The reason for the move has to be educational or family work related. Big clubs get around this rule by getting the mom or dad a job in the new country where the player has transferred to.
    It is in place in Europe although big clubs have no problem skirting this rule.
    You can hold two passports legally b

  12. John Schultz, April 14, 2016 at 3:44 p.m.

    Lou, so did Pulisuc family move to Germany?

  13. Lou vulovich, April 14, 2016 at 4:36 p.m.

    I don't know how Dortmund was able to get Pulisic eligible to play. The rules are very clear, you have to move for non soccer specific reasons under 18. The fact that Pulisic has a Croatian passport would not change that.

  14. Lou vulovich, April 14, 2016 at 5:32 p.m.

    Let me correct myself John. Pulisic has a Croatian passport, this allows him to play in another European Union country after the age of 16. Croatia is a part of the EEU

  15. John Schultz, April 14, 2016 at 5:59 p.m.

    Lou, but Fifa allows the move at 16 only writhing europe. Pulisuc is USA player.

  16. Lou vulovich, April 14, 2016 at 6:09 p.m.

    Pulusic has a Croatian passport.

  17. Ric Fonseca, April 14, 2016 at 8:05 p.m.

    One very important factor that everyone seems to dance around, including the almighty and "saintly" Alianza, and take this from someone who has been there in the collegiate trenches now since 1966, I know only too well that Mexican American or "Latino" players living this side of the border have been largely ignored by virtually all parties involved, especially college/universities, et.al. IT IS A FACT OF LIFE! That Alianza launched itself as the "savior" is pure baloney, it is also protective of their bottom line, and I can line up some notable Latino coaches that can attest to this. That FIFA is now raising it's ugly head to "protect" dual-nationality Mexican American kids from being taken to LIGA MX, hell, blame the likes of Alianza, AND LIGA MX. Why in hell didn't MLS or the DA or other groups not speak up sooner? Why didn't the vaunted NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA NSCAA coaches speak out sooner? IMHO it is all too suspicious to note that FIFA Article 19 "Protection of Minors" is aimed at the MFM and LIGA MX. To me, I smell a rotten fish coming all the way from Denmark, ooops Switzerland, and a highly suspicious way for someone in LMS and US Soccer to be calling attention to these dastardly deeds, yet they haven't said much of other US American youth players that have signed in European teams (Where was FIFA during the Freddy Adu years, etc.) Oh, but wait Pulisic is exempt because of his Croatian passport? Oh lordy be, and the beat goes on!!!

  18. Lou vulovich, April 14, 2016 at 11:13 p.m.

    Pulisic qualifies for a Croatian passport the same way all the American Mexican boys do through family. The rule was put into place due to agents,,bringing African boys to Europe and abandoning them.
    I do think that US/Mexico is a unique situation which should be looked at differently.
    I also believe that contrary to what I read the Mexican/American boys have more opportunity not less, due to the Mexican scouting in the US for talent, which probably exedes US scouts in their own back yard.

  19. Ric Fonseca replied, April 15, 2016 at 2:35 a.m.

    Wow Lous, do you really, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y believe that "Mexican American boys have more opportunity, not less, due to the Mexican scouting in the US for talent...(sic)"??? Your only qualifying statement that holds any factual truth is that it "exedes (sic) US scouts in their own back yard...(sic)" Though you can answer my question: WHAT US scouts, and where are they???

  20. Lou vulovich, April 15, 2016 at 9:03 a.m.

    US scouts 0 agree. My personal experience is that the Mexican community understands the game much more so, and people in general will talk and bring up a good player, even if he has no relation to them.
    In the Anglo community they seldom recognize a top player and no one will mention him unless he is their own.
    Also I have been to very small tournaments where 3-5 scouts from Mexico were there to watch boys they had heard about.

  21. Ginger Peeler, April 15, 2016 at 3:07 p.m.

    Regarding dual citizenship...I kinda think the laws depend on the specific country. Case in point: in the 60s, my husband's friend had a French father and American mother. Jerry, the boy, had dual citizenships: French and USA. I believe this was right before France bailed out of their battle with Vietnam and we hadn't yet joined the battle. Both countries had a draft. When the French Foreign Legion showed up to tell Jerry he was being drafted, he renounced his French citizenship, declared for the US, and immediately joined the Army Reserves. So, at that time, the French military held power over its citizens, even if they lived in another country. I don't think anybody has a draft anymore, but I can see where a person holding dual citizenship would have to abide by the laws of the country they're living in (cannot sign a legal contract until age 18), or denounce their citizenship with another country. Again, the USA had a young kid move to Spain with his. father..last summer I believe, and the team he planned to play for was slapped down by FIFA...the courts finally determined that Barcelona (or whoever the team was) had acted illegally in recruiting our american and some other players. They were all sent home.

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