Stoking Dreams, Mexican Pro Teams Poach Players Here

July 9, 2010

Download Story
Scouts from the Mexican National Team and Club Tigres meet players after a recent game in suburban Melrose Park

Many boys in Mexico grow up dreaming of playing soccer in that country's big leagues. In Chicago, a lot of young Mexican soccer players share that dream, and are lining up for a chance to play south of the border. Scouts from Mexican professional teams are traveling here to poach some of the area's young players.

Juan Alonso's official title…

 

ALONSO: Visor de Club Tigres, sí…

 

is "scout" for the Tigres pro soccer team in Mexico.

 

But he's not limiting himself to Mexico when it comes to finding good players.

 

On a suburban Chicago soccer field full of 16-year-olds, he jokes that what he's really doing is stealing kids… 

 

ALONSO: ...robachicos.

 

On the field are dozens of kids hoping to be stolen. Antonio Paredes is one of them.

 

PAREDES: It's ‘cause I want to make it. You know, I really want my dreams to come true. I really want to play pro. So my dad told me, every time I play you've got to give it all—your 100 percent, everything.

 

BRACAMONTES TRANSLATION: We watch them, and if a kid stands out, we ask what year he is, where he's from, if he's Mexican. 

 

Carlos Bracamontes is dressed in a green warm-up suit that gives him away as a scout for the Mexican National team. Among others, he'd like to find some good “'96s” on this trip, 14-year-olds who can play on his country's youngest national team.

 

The kids don't even need to have been born in Mexico, as long as one of their parents is Mexican.

 

As the kids play, Bracamontes and Alonso study team rosters and take notes. An impressive pass, a good defensive play—these become little pencil marks next to a boy's name.

 

For 16-year-old Luis Medina, it's nerve-racking.

 

MEDINA: I'm like looking around, looking for them, seeing if they're looking for me. If they're like staring or something.

 

Earlier this summer Bracamontes says he picked up two kids in Tucson. He found another two from El Paso, Texas. Today, he likes a couple of very quick kids in yellow shoes.  And he's heard they're Mexican.

 

But it??s hard for him to stop ooing and ahhing over Number 47. A very sturdy, very fast, and—unfortunately for Bracamontes—a very Polish-looking defender.

 

BRACAMONTES: Tiene muy buen físico, muy buena pinta, lástima que no sea mexicano.

 

Good physique, very promising. Too bad he's not Mexican! Bracamontes says. He's even a leftie! 

 

ALONSO: Si no es mexicano, lo casamos!

BRACAMONTES: Sí, con una mexicana!

 

Maybe we can marry him to a Mexican, the scout from Tigres jokes.

 

Tigres has 15 kids from the States now living at the team's soccer academy in northern Mexico. Like other Mexican pro teams, Tigres gives them room, board, schooling, the chance to play soccer pretty much all the time, and the hope that someday they'll reach the top team.

 

American kids dream of playing pro sports too, but in soccer-crazed Mexico, parents of even five- and six-year-olds entertain honest hopes their kids will play pro one day. That's even true for middle-class parents whose kids will have other opportunities in life.

 

Isaac Mendoza is 16. His family drove two hours from Wisconsin so he could be seen by the scouts.

 

MENDOZA: If I keep practicing and always prove my best on it, I think I can make it. I'm trying to play professional. Primera división.

LUTTON: In Mexico.

ISAAC: In Mexico. Well—it doesn't' matter where, but playing soccer is just my dream.

 

Isaac's dad, Paulino Mendoza, practices with his two sons every day, sometimes twice a day. At one point, they got so good that he didn't know how to coach them anymore, so he ordered videos and books to learn. Today he's among a crowd of immigrant parents cheering their kids on from the stands.

 

MENDOZA TRANSLATION: Yes, it's ironic. At one time, for us, it was all about coming to THIS country. Now, it's the other way around. Because of soccer, we may return to Mexico.

 

But one family's dream come true could mean dashed hopes for another.  As the Tigres scout watches Chicago players, he's thinking about who he might cut back in Mexico. 

 

ALONSO TRANSLATION: Each team has 18 players. If one kid comes, another has to leave. We really only invite players we believe can compete for a spot on the team.  

 

Alonso says he's especially careful with players living in the U.S. illegally. If they go to Mexico but don't end up staying with the team, they'll have no way of legally re-entering the U.S.

 

Miguel Sanchez took that chance. Right after finishing high school in L.A., Sanchez heard about tryouts for a pro team in Mexico. At 17, and with no way to get back to the U.S. legally, he went for it.

 

SANCHEZ: Now I'm wearing one of the most famous jerseys down in Mexico, and you see people all over the city wearing the same jersey, it's motivating, you know? It's just a matter of how much you want it, I guess. And luck.

 

Sanchez plays on Cruz Azul's “B” team, earning a few thousand dollars a month. As he's talking, little kids come up to him in the bleachers and hold out Cruz Azul shirts for him to autograph.

 

You might wonder where the Americans are in this picture. Frank Klopas is the technical director for the Chicago Fire.  He's not surprised international scouts are looking for kids in his backyard.

 

KLOPAS: When you look around the world, the price for players has skyrocketed. In the States, there are so many kids that are out playing soccer and we're so close to Mexico—we have a big Hispanic community here. It's better than spending $20 to $30 million to buy a player if you're able to develop them through your academy or identify players like that. For them, they look at it as an investment.

 

The Fire has its own elite development team, starting at age 14. Klopas is confident he's already attracting the best kids in the area to play with the Fire. But Major League Soccer rules say the Fire can't recruit kids beyond a 75-mile radius. And once they hit 18—most go to the college system, which is what the U.S. relies on to develop its pro soccer players.

 

There are some college scouts watching the kids play today.

 

Coaches from DePaul University have their eye on the same couple of kids the Mexican national team scout is looking at.

 

DEPAUL COACH: We like the guys in the yellow shoes.  

 

They'll be trying to convince them that college soccer in the U.S. is a great idea too.