American Exports: León's Mexico-born GK William Yarbrough has US roots & passport
GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Yes, William Yarbrough does speak Spanish, very good Spanish.
The 23-year-old Club León goalkeeper – 6-foot-3 with blond hair and blue eyes – was born and raised south of the border, the son of Texan parents who moved to Mexico more than 30 years ago.
"People think I'm German, I'm from the US or they think I'm from anywhere but Mexico," admitted Yarbrough to MLSsoccer.com this week. "The first reaction of everyone is, 'Oh, you speak Spanish?'"
The bilingual netminder's name and looks confused many observers at Léon's friendly with Mexico's Olympic squad a few weeks ago, with many taking to social networks to question the starting goalkeeper's background and where exactly he had sprung from.
Born in Aguascalientes, Yarbrough started playing soccer at age 5, drawn instantly to keeping goal due to his love of diving around and getting dirty, as well as not liking to run around the field much.
After playing for different youth teams around Mexico, the then 16-year-old was offered a trial by Pachuca and signed within a week. It is there that Yarbrough learned his trade for seven years in various youth and farm teams, before being loaned out to Club León, who have close ties with Pachuca, last winter.
Yarbrough didn't feature in the Liga de Ascenso last season, meaning León's 1-1 draw against Mexico's Olympic squad was his first real baptism of fire with the big boys.
"I knew it was going to be a nationally televised game and that everyone was going to see it," he explained. "And that it would be either good or bad for my reputation."
It turns out that, while it was only one game, it was great for his reputation.
Yarbrough was one of the highlights for León, making key saves in the 24th and 85th minutes and showing off some of his attributes: physical presence, ability to organize the defense (his shouts were picked up by pitch side microphones) and razor-sharp reflexes. He even drew praise from his coach, Argentine Gustavo Matosas.
"He said, 'That's why I put you in because you've proven to me that you deserve a chance. What you've proved to me is that the door is open to anyone,'" related Yarbrough.
It wasn't the only high for Yarbrough in early July. Two days before the game, he had been handed a new three year contract with Pachuca, and León extended his loan deal for another 12 months.
That does not mean Yarbrough will be an automatic first choice for the new Liga MX season starting Friday.
Edgar Hernández and Christian Martínez both appear to be ahead of Yarbrough in the Panzas Verdes' goalkeeping pecking order right now, although Yarbrough is prepared to be patient.
"I personally don't pay too much attention to whether I'm going to play right this second or not," he said. "I just try the best I can every day and sooner or later opportunities come and I know I'll be ready when it does."
Yarbrough does have a genuine chance of getting minutes in Mexico's new cup competition, the Copa MX.
Not known to many north of the border, Yarbrough has already played international soccer, suiting up for Mexico's Under-20 national team, but he says he has no preference between the two national teams he is eligible to represent.
The goalkeeper's immediate concern is Club León, who won promotion to Mexico's first division last season.
Yarbrough says the atmosphere around the city is electric as the club counts down to the team's first game in the Liga MX this Saturday against Querétaro.
The affable 'keeper may not be involved, but Yarbrough is an American passport-holder down south definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.