GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The name Deportivo Coatepeque doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue for most Americans, but getting used to pronouncing it now may just be worth the effort.
The second-division Guatemalan club has plans in place to ascend rapidly up the ladder of Central American soccer and become one of the heavyweights of the region, and they’re going to try and do it all with the help of American players.
New club president Ronaldo Samayoa wants to harness young Guatemalan-American talent and offer the chance of first-team football and a professional deal for those ready to take a chance on soccer near the Pacific coast of Guatemala.
“There aren't that many Guatemalans in the US, but there are a lot of good players,” Samayoa told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Guatemala on Wednesday.
Samayoa, who is in his early 50s and has only been in charge of the club a few weeks, was born in Guatemala but grew up in Los Angeles, home of the largest Guatemalan-American community in the United States. That’s where he coached youth sides and avidly followed the local soccer scene, and witnessed how Mexican clubs, especially Club Tijuana, started to focus on bringing dual nationals in from the United States.
“I've got to do a lot of work to recruit and look for them, just like Xolos,” Samayoa said. “They go looking for Mexican-Americans in the US and they're successful with that.”
The new president, however, may not be the only one looking for Guatemalan-American talent north of the border. The general manager of CSD Comunicaciones, one of Guatemala's perennial first-division power clubs, told MLSsoccer.com last month that he is hopefully of deepening his club's roots in the States, too.
But Samayoa is already in the process of bringing players south. He had three young Guatemalan-Americans at the club on trial last week, but only one – LA native Edgar “Chato” Gonzalez (above right, and center with Samayoa) – has signed a deal to stay with the club.
The 20-year-old Gonzalez was introduced to Samayoa in Southern California through his agent, Yiannis Koulouris, and had little hesitation about accepting the offer of a trial, despite the likelihood of being offered the chance to go to college.
“I'd rather come here to be a professional,” said Gonzalez, who has been involved in the Olympic Development Program in the US.
Samayoa believes many young Guatemalan-American soccer players’ careers are cut short either before or after college, and he sees Deportivo Coatepeque as a means to give talented, young players another option to extend their careers.
“Many of the Latin kids, including Guatemalans, do not have the grades to go to a four-year school. They have the talent but not the grades, so they go to a junior college and play,” he explained, adding that he considers it unlikely that US scouts would watch junior college games. “I want to be the team that helps these players to continue their careers and make a living out of it because they are very talented.”
The town of Coatepeque, located around 130 miles from Guatemala City, has a population of roughly 50,000, and its soccer team has hardly been successful, stuck in the second division for the last 36 years.
But Gonzalez believes he will be playing in nationally televised matches in the not too distant future, and Samayoa has similar aspirations.
“Our short-term plan is to move up to the first division and in three years to be competing for the national championship and then to be playing [CONCACAF Champions League], that's the ultimate goal,” Samayoa said.
The club already has the infrastructure in place, with the 20,000-capacity Estadio Israel Barrios only opened 18 months ago.
The first task is assembling a squad capable of getting Deportivo Coatepeque promoted, and Samayoa has a team of contacts scouring the US to bring down the required talent.
The next American trialist with the club isn't of Guatemalan descent, but his name may ring a bell for some US fans: Vincenzo Bernardo, a former US youth international from New Jersey who played in Napoli's youth system. The 22-year-old attacking midfielder would mark a major signing coup for Coatepeque.
Competing with the likes of Guatemalan giants Municipal and Comunicaciones within a few years appears to be a big ask, but Samayoa says fans around town have been responsive, sponsors are on board and that he hopes gate receipts will be up for next season.
“I'm going to try hard, work diligently,” he said, “and see what happens.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.