Gringo Report: Tigres' US contingent living the dream

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — It has been a good start to the season for Tigres UANL’s young American-born contingent, and first-team debuts for one or two of them may not be too far away.

Five Americans — Moises Orozco (pictured above), Uvaldo Luna, Victor Garza, Juan Pablo Ocegueda and Daniel Navarro — have been training recently with the first team, and in total the club has more than 10 Americans younger than age 20 on the books.

“They told us that we have a great chance [of debuting this season], it's just a matter of patience and of working hard and that' what I am doing,” Orozco told MLSsoccer.com after Sunday's U-20 game against Estudiantes Tecos.

Orozco, Garza and Ocegueda all started the 0-0 draw while Luna was an unused substitute. Jonathan Bornstein, the 26-year-old US World Cup veteran, also started the game.

“Obviously [with Orozco] playing up top, he's scoring some goals," Bornstein told MLSsoccer.com after the game, "and I think Garza is a great option out wide, he has a lot of speed and brings a lot to the game."

Added an enthusiastic Luna on his way into the changing room, “I just came back from preseason with the first team and it's going great. Wow. It was incredible, man. I never thought I could be with them playing, especially with Bornstein being on the national team. They showed me a lot.”

Luna and Ocegueda, who played for the US in the recent Milk Cup, are only 17 and are just breaking into the Tigres Under-20 set-up, so a call up to the first team, even just for training, is a major stepping stone. Tigres are fast becoming one of the powerhouses of Mexican soccer, investing heavily in their squad and currently unbeaten in the first four games of the Apertura.

“It's a lot of work over there, a lot of running, more intense, and we want to get a spot over there so you work a little bit harder,” said Ocegueda of his preseason with the first team.

Ocegueda looked a composed and assured left back in Sunday's game. He has the air of a defender not easily flustered, and has an abundance of energy to get up and down the wing. For striker Orozco and winger Garza, there have been more opportunities to train with the first team dating back to last season, but they still notice the step up in class.

“You can't slack off for a second because the ball is always moving and you have to be on position every time,” said Garza.

The four players are happy with the way the season has started for them and all are getting plenty of playing time with the U-20s.

Friends as well as teammates, the Americans in Tigres say they have adapted relatively easily to Mexico because their parents are all from south of the border and they grew up speaking both Spanish and English. However, all miss aspects of life in el norte.

“Even though my parents are from here in Mexico, I love the US,” said Orozco. “I miss everything — my family, friends, home, everything.”

Added Luna, who has been at Tigres since he was 13, “I miss my family a lot, I'm not going to lie. But [this is] something I've been chasing after; it's a dream.”

The talkative Luna could have been speaking on behalf of all them as they inch closer to that Tigres first-team dream.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com or via Twitter: @mexicoworldcup