GUADALAJARA, Mexico — When Club Tijuana face Chivas USA in the San Diego Clásico on Wednesday evening, there will be one American youngster desperate for a chance to shine on the pitch, despite it being just a friendly.
Forward Bryan de la Fuente debuted in MLS at 18 years old for Chivas USA in Oct. 2010 after joining the club's academy from Mexico's Chivas de Guadalajara three years earlier, but was dumped in the offseason by Chivas USA.
“I wasn't in the coach's plans for the year in Chivas USA,” de la Fuente admitted to MLSsoccer.com. “We were looking for something in Europe, but Tijuana offered me the opportunity to come and train. I liked it and we came to an agreement.”
The fast, two-footed attacker has played four games and scored one goal this year for Tijuana's Under-20s. But with the team likely to promote some of its youngsters for the Chivas USA game, de la Fuente could be in line for playing time against his old squad.
“Before making the agreement to come here, we spoke about opportunities in the first team,” said de la Fuente. “They told me if I keep working hard, the opportunity could come at any time.”
The fourth gringo at Tijuana – after the first-team trio of Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Greg Garza – de la Fuente chose the Mexican team partly because of its proximity to his parents' home in Bell, Calif. – just a two-hour drive away.
De la Fuente was born in Laredo, Texas, but whisked off down to Guadalajara when he was only a few months old. After getting sent to trials at Chivas de Guadalajara, he was taken on by Mexico's most successful club and stayed until he was 15, when he left for Southern California with hopes of furthering his career.
“I was born there and as soccer is growing there, we decided it would be a good opportunity to go to California, where the academy of Chivas USA was starting," de la Fuente explained. "We went, did trials and I stayed in the academy.”
Now back in Mexico, de la Fuente cites Corona as a great example of an American who came down to Tijuana and worked his way through the youth system and into the first team.
He calculates that there are “10 or 12” American passport-holders in the youth system at his new club and sees playing for the Xolos as a springboard to be able to help him achieve his ultimate goal of playing in Europe one day.
“I think it's a great window in a club that is growing,” said the US U-20 international. “I think every player dreams of it.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at email@example.com.