GUADALAJARA, Mexico — In a week in which security in the Mexican game has become a major issue following a shootout just outside Santos Laguna’s stadium last weekend, Dallas-born Marco Vidal admits he has witnessed the dark side of playing soccer south of the border.
The Club León midfielder (above), who has played in Mexico for almost half of his 25 years, was once robbed at gunpoint while he was stopped at a traffic light during his time with Indios de Ciudad Juárez.
It is, sadly, not an uncommon tale for players — Chivas USA midfielder Francisco “Panchito” Mendoza even recalled in an interview with ESPN.com this past March that he witnessed executions during his loan spell at Indios last year.
“When I first stepped into Juárez, it was an OK situation, like any border city,” Vidal explained to MLSsoccer.com by phone on Wednesday. “A year-and-a-half after living there, that’s when things started getting a lot [more] difficult.”
Vidal says no other serious incidents happened to him during the rest of his time in Juárez, and that playing for second-division side León in the colonial heart of Mexico is a world away from the city that is considered one of the most dangerous on earth.
“People watch the news and it looks bad, but once you live here, you get used to it,” he rationalized.
However, Vidal admits last Saturday’s shooting was a “difficult” situation and he tries to avoid watching the news and reading too much in newspapers. The Texan central midfielder is also keen on an eventual move to Major League Soccer.
“I would love to get an opportunity in the MLS,” said Vidal. “To play back home would be a good thing in my career. I think it would be great and if the opportunity comes, I think I would take it.”
For Vidal, his desire to play in the US one day is more for professional and family reasons, but for younger players, greater concerns about safety are being raised.
Santos and Morelia players fled the pitch last Saturday and fans cowered underneath their seats as five minutes of gunfire rang out around Estadio Corona in Torreón. American Ernest Nungaray had played in the U-20s game for Morelia against Santos earlier in the day and was probably in the stadium at the time of the shooting.
While Morelia kindly offered MLSsoccer.com the chance to interview Nungaray, it was also made very clear that under no circumstances could the shooting be mentioned, an obvious sore subject as the escalation in drug-related violence in Mexico in recent years has captured the world’s headlines.
Then this week, MLSsoccer.com learned that an American playing in the youth system of a Mexican club returned to the US after receiving death threats. His future is as yet unknown, but it does pose questions over security guarantees in the Mexican game.
Throw into the mix the high-profile shooting of former Club América and Paraguayan national-team star Salvador Cabañas in January 2010 and the two Paraguayan players based in Guadalajara — considered a safe city — that left later in 2010 because of extortion attempts, and it begs the question:
How long before players believe the big money to be made in the Mexican game just isn’t worth the risk?
Posed with that dilemma, Vidal, living in the comparatively calm state of Guanajuato, insists he lives “a very comfortable life” south of the border. Every month he drives up to Guadalajara to visit his former Pachuca teammate and buddy Herculez Gomez without any problems.
For Vidal, his motives for wanting an eventual move up north are not due to the violence, but the fact he has achieved a lot in Mexico and the quality of MLS appeals.
“My dream was always to come play in Mexico,” admitted Vidal, adding, “I think back in the day, soccer in Mexico was a lot better than in the US, but lately [MLS] has gotten a lot better. If it is not at the same level, then it is real close to being at the same level as Mexico.”
The southern wanderer may be concentrating on staying safe and getting León promoted right now, he may well be on MLS fans’ radar in the near future.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter: @mexicoworldcup