Mexico's Liga MX resumes this weekend with the start of its 2016 Torneo Apertura. More Americans are playing in the top level of Mexico soccer than in any other foreign league in the world. But new
rules will slow the tide of Mexican-Americans to clubs south of the border.
In 1998, the Mexican government changed its laws to allow dual citizenship, enabling U.S.-born
Mexican-Americans to obtain Mexican citizenship and making them attractive to Mexican clubs. They have recruited aggressively in the United States, scouting at showcases to attract young Americans
into their academy programs.
But recent enforcement of FIFA's Article 19, introduced in 2001 to protect minors in reaction to what was described as human trafficking in soccer, means that
most Mexican clubs are no longer able to register players under the age of 18 residing in the United States. U.S. internationals in Liga
MX: GP PLAYER, CURRENT CLUB 253 Jose Torres
235 Edgar Castillo
, Monterrey 160 Michael Orozco
, Tijuana 97 William
, Leon 67 Greg Garza
, Tijuana 52 Jonathan Bornstein
, Queretaro 49 Paul Arriola
, Tijuana 38 Ventura Alvarado
, Club America
22 Omar Gonzalez
9 Luis Gil
, Queretaro 8 Miguel Ibarra
Players who came as minors include Ventura Alvarado, Edgar
and Jose Torres
, who have all parlayed their success in Mexico into significant roles on the U.S. national team. None would be allowed to move to Mexico before
their 18th birthday under the FIFA rule finally being enforced.
An exception for players living near the border and moving to a club nearby on the other side of the border allows Tijuana
to recruit minors from Southern California. It started seven Americans
, including U.S.
international Paul Arriola
, in the second leg of the 2016 final of Mexico's Sub-20 championship.
A bigger long-term issue may be Mexico's new 10/8 rule, which requires that Liga MX
clubs must dress a minimum of eight players who are Mexican-born. Until this year, Mexican roster rules limited clubs to five foreigners. Mexican-Americans did not count as foreigners, nor did
naturalized Mexicans from other countries.
The new rule was intended to cut down on the number of imports from South American countries who took out Mexican citizenship and no longer
counted against the five-player limit. But swept up in the new rule are Americans who moved to Mexico after their 19th birthday.
Mexican-Americans are still considered Mexican players for
the purposes of the 10/8 rule if they had not turned 19 when they first registered in Mexico. That would include many of the players at Tijuana, like Alejandro Guido, John Requejo
Arriola, who signed with Xolos after their senior years at California high schools.
But players who move to Mexican clubs when they are older -- like Jonathan Bornstein
, Omar Gonzalez
and Jorge Villafana
after successful MLS careers -- are no longer considered Mexicans for the 10/8 rule but instead count against the limit of 10 foreigners on a
game day roster.
That won't prevent players of Mexican descent from moving to Mexico. It just means they will have to compete against the pool of all other possible foreigners to gain the
attention of Mexican clubs.
"I'm not a Mexican-American anymore," Tijuana's Greg Garza
, who was 20 when he signed with Tijuana from Portugal's Estoril, told ESPN FC
. "I'm a foreigner now." Hercules Gomez
also parlayed his success into Mexico into a trip on the U.S. national team to the 2010 World Cup and is back in MLS after playing for six Mexican clubs, told ESPN FC he would have never moved to
Mexico if the current rules were in place and added that the transfer of Gonzalez, who helped Pachuca win the 2016 Torneo Clausura, would have never happened.
To believe Gomez, the effect
of FIFA's Article 19 and Mexico's new 10/8 rule is that all Mexican-Americans under the age of 18 except Tijuana's Southern Californians and over 19 will be barred from moving to Mexico.