GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A new batch of young Yanqui hopefuls will be heading south for trials at Mexican clubs over coming weeks, but a number of others have returned north in recent months as the cross-border flow of players rolls on.
The allure of joining a youth system in Mexico remains strong. The promises of pay, a soccer education and a clear, if complicated, path to the first team are on offer. In addition, Edgar Castillo, José Torres, Herculez Gomez (pictured, right) and Michael Orozco Fiscal all headed south as teenagers and progressed, through some ups and downs, to the US national team.
Seventeen American players – all born between 1993 and '99 – will be taking the same southern journey in the next month as they take the first major step on the long road to mimicking the careers of the above names, after being spotted by scouts at a trial arranged by the Alianza de Fútbol scouting program.
One player, San Rafael, Calif., native Cylus Sandoval, received invitations to try out at Cruz Azul, Morelia, San Luis, Pachuca, Tijuana, Club América, Chivas, Santos, Atlas, Monterrey and Atlante and was the most sought after player at the Aug. 16 showcase in San Francisco.
“I'm very excited just to be given the opportunity to try out, I wasn't really expecting to get so many offers,” Sandoval told MLSsoccer.com this week. “I was just in shock basically.”
The 16-year-old center forward, who plays for Marin FC, says his dream is to have a professional career, but his immediate problem is whittling down the list of invites to just three clubs, which he will visit in the next month. He says his parents are stressing that the educational focus the clubs provide should be key to his decision, yet offers of college scholarships are on the table for Sandoval from US institutions.
“I'm going to go down to Mexico and give it my all and, if I don't see a lot of progress, I'll think about coming back and getting my degree,” said Sandoval.
It's a common theme with young players heading to Mexico. Six-foot-2 central midfielder Danny Lopez, 17, plays for Pateadores in Southern California and will be in Guadalajara at Chivas over Thanksgiving hoping to impress the coaches of the Rebaño Sagrado. He, too, believes that the opportunity is worth taking the risk, considering the chance to return will also be there.
“If I don't do good over there, I'd just come back here to the US and study over here,” said Lopez, a Santa Ana, Calif., native.
But while more players head south, there have been others moving back north over the last few months seeking new opportunities after periods playing in Mexican youth systems, emphasizing the fluid nature of the issue and making it a nightmare for those tracking US player movements in Mexico.
Cousins Moises Orozco (pictured, right) and Emilio Orozco have left Tigres UANL's academy recently, with Emilio joining the NASL's Fort Lauderdale Strikers on loan, while Moises was on trial with the Seattle Sounders up until last month.
Moises' situation neatly sums up the difficulties. Tigres sold star striker Héctor Mancilla in early June, seemingly creating a small opening for the Oxnard, Calif., native, but then Spaniard Luis García was signed from Zaragoza and 20-year-old Mexican striker Taufic Guarch was brought in from Espanyol. Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti isn't exactly the type to shift things around much, either. Just ask Jonathan Bornstein.
But they aren't the only two. Kevin Huezo (pictured, below right) was on trial at Chivas USA during preseason and appears to have left Pachuca, while Bryan de la Fuente is no longer at Club Tijuana and goalkeeper Jesús Guzmán headed back to his hometown of San Jose, Calif., after a stint with Santos Laguna. All three had previously featured for the US U-20 national team.
Current U-20 international left back Juan Pablo Ocegueda (pictured at top) remains at Tigres. He has already experienced what the 17 youngsters are hoping to achieve over coming weeks, having signed for Tigres four years ago. Now 19, he is still battling to get some minutes in a first team mainly compromised of expensive imports.
“I felt competition when I was playing in California with my club team West Coast FC, but the competition in professional soccer is a lot harder, intense and competitive,” Ocegueda told MLSsoccer.com as he explained the move to Mexico. “You always have to be on your toes on and off the field. One bad practice could be the deciding one whether you play or not in the next game.”
In Ocegueda's path to Tigres' first team at left back is Mexico regular Jorge Torres Nilo, while Bornstein, Eder Borrelli and Carlos Salcido could all deputize.
It's certainly not any kind of easy option, but US youngsters look set to continue to tread the road south.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.