TIJUANA, Mexico – Back in January, Monterrey striker Alonso Hernandez had all but given up hope of getting a call into the US Under-20 squad ahead of June’s U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
“I’ve never been to a camp,” Hernandez explained to MLSsoccer.com by phone on Thursday. “I think it is out of my reach, but of course I’d like to play at the World Cup.”
In the meantime, the 19-year-old Hernandez has enjoyed a rapid rise with Monterrey, from scoring seven goals in nine starts for their U-20 side, to featuring three times for the senior team and winning plaudits for his displays.
But the real icing on the cake came last week, when Monterrey coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich called him over just before the squad were about to have lunch.
“Vucetich called me to tell me the US national team had approached [the club], that they were interested in me," Hernandez said. "In that moment I felt a lot of joy, but I went away calm until the call-up was concrete."
It was a call from US coach Tab Ramos that confirmed to Hernandez that he would be going to France for the Toulon Tournament between May 28 and June 8 – his first trip to Europe – and that the US had in fact been watching him.
His participation in Toulon is no guarantee that he’ll be in the World Cup squad, but it’s a start. The national team call-up has been the culmination of a long journey for the attacker, who can play as a striker, as a No. 10 or out wide.
Hernandez left his native El Paso, Texas – where his parents are still based – at age 15, signing across the US-Mexico border for Indios de Ciudad Juárez, but he was almost immediately loaned out to the club’s third division team in Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua. Almost two years later, when Indios lost their league status, he was snapped up by Monterrey for their Under-17 squad.
Given the road he’s already traveled, the youngster knows that the call-up for Toulon – in which some regulars will not participate – is merely an opportunity. He needs to make the most of it in order to crack Ramos’ final squad for Turkey.
But now, at least, the chance is at Hernandez’s feet. It’s not hope, anymore – it’s execution.
“[At the World Cup] you play with the best players in the world in the age category and my family would be very proud,” Hernandez said. “The motivation is too much. I’m going to give everything to do as good a job as I can.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.