After hearing from a few people about the poor sound quality of the interviews on last week’s Waiting For Gaetjens podcast (sorry about that), I figured I’d transcribe the two interviews and post them here. I normally wouldn’t do this–I hate the whole, I write the same thing that I Twitter that I podcast that I Facebook, etc, etc, etc–but I think Hugo Salcedo in particular offers the most experienced knowledge of the movement of American youth players to Mexican club teams, while Goal.com’s Rene Leal, who spent time with Pachuca’s youth team, can shed light on the experience from a player’s perspective. And anyway, because no one actually heard what they said on the air, this is still new.
So how does the pipeline for players going from the U.S. to Mexico work? Will we see more movement? Will we see Americans without Mexican ancestry start heading south? Is this good for American soccer? Greg Lalas and I follow the path south to a system better prepared at present to accelerate the soccer education of American youth.
Hugo Salcedo has worked for FIFA, the U.S. Olympic Committee (and played soccer in the Olympics), for MLS in development; he received the 2008 Jerry Yeagley Award from NSCAA (Coaches Association), and has a son who played and now coaches at UCLA. He helped a young Michael Orozco find his way to San Luis and then to Philadelphia. He continues to help other players to FIND A TEAM AND PLAY (which of course is the Waiting For Gaetjens motto).
Greg Lalas: We were just reading about the Copa Chivas tournament down in Guadalajara that is taking place. One of the things that came up, Tigres beat USA 1-0, and the goal was scored by Moises Orozco and they also started three Mexican-Americans who were born in either southern California or Texas. So we were curious to get some background on the move by the Mexican clubs to find players in the US and how the scouting system is working.
Hugo Salcedo: It’s very interesting situation that has happened. It started perhaps not from a mistake but some clubs as you may remember from Mexico have been invited to play in youth tournaments in the U.S. So the youth clubs go to those tournaments and when they play against some of our teams from the U.S., they see talent. Once they see them in those tournaments the kids are invited to come down to Mexico. Two examples are Edgar Castillo and Francisco Torres. That’s how it started. Once they saw that there are one or two, there must be more. So they are sending more scouts not only to see the games in the tournaments that they get invited to, but they are looking at other tournaments as well, such as the San Diego Surf tournament in my area here in southern California. As you may know they have scouting sessions for club coaches and college coaches, and so those Mexican coaches and scouts go to those to see players.
The specific situation with Tigres is more particular. They have 12 Mexican-American kids in Tigres right now. What happened is that the director of the youth system at Tigres is someone who was with Chivas USA–Dennis Te Kloese. Dennis knows our systems in the U.S., so he was hired by Tigres about a year ago and is the one who has taken most of these youngsters down there.
Adam Spangler: Tell me if I’m wrong Hugo, but it sounds like the majority of kids going to Mexico have some sort of ancestral ties to Mexico. Is that still the case? Are the Mexican teams looking only for these players? Is this a work permit issue?
Salcedo: They aren’t just looking for those players, but they like the ancestry because of they can get a Mexican passport and count on the team as a Mexican player, not a foreign player. But Michael Orozco having an uncle at San Luis didn’t really matter. Its just the fact that if you get a talented player with the ability to get a Mexican passport. Think about it. It doesn’t cost any money to the club.
Lalas: It’s a bit discouraging that these talented young players are going to Mexico instead of joining a MLS club as a youth. Is MLS dropping the ball?
Salcedo: I wouldn’t call it dropping the ball. I believe that we in the US still don’t have a system to develop the talented player. We have something that is good, but not enough for some of these Mexican-American kids. I’m going to stay in southern California–if you go to Mission Viejo where I have my son in a club he is getting good playing time and he is traveling. I don’t need to send him to Chivas USA and I don’t need to send him to Galaxy because my son is having a good program in Mission Viejo. So Chivas and Galaxy do not necessarily get the best players in southern California. So the talented player who could be even better doesn’t need those MLS clubs–I don’t know about Chicago or New York, but I would think that it is similar because my son goes to practice 15 minutes away from home. If he comes to LA, he would need to spend an hour and a half on the freeway to get to practice and not necessarily get a better opportunity. If I sent my son–he’s 16-years-old, has talent–to Mexico, he practices every day under good coaches and good programs. They have nutrition, they have everything as a professional club. He would live in the clubhouse. So therefore sending my son to Chivas USA or Galaxy–he is not going to grow as fast as he would down in Mexico. If he shows talent down in Mexico for just one year he can be in the first team. Which is what happened Michael Orozco and Edgar Castillo. They expedite their growth. So I don’t think it is so much MLS is dropping the ball, they just don’t have the same system.
Lalas: What is the player feeling? Do they feel torn? Like an Edgar Castillo, we all know he was torn by the US and Mexican national teams. These 12 kids at Tigres will be torn a little bit. Do you think these players would rather play for Mexico or the US?
Salcedo: All of them, I can assure you because I talk to a few of them–I was there two weeks ago–they would prefer to play in the US, but they know the reality that will not get the chance here in the US. They are torn; it is a sacrifice. They have been away from home. They are not the best circumstances where they go, but they know, the parents know, they have no chance at that point to make it over here.
Spangler: Hugo, we touched on it a couple of years ago when we spoke about Michael specifically, but how much help do these kids need in getting Mexico. Michael needed your help to make connections down there, but it seems in even just the last two years since we did that interview that the pipeline has grown and its much easier for kids to make the move down there, if they have the talent to play. Is that true from what you’ve seen?
Salcedo: It’s much easier. Scouts are coming more. They talk to the parents and say, “We’ll take care of your son.” As a matter of fact, Tigres is taking one more player from southern California this week. They saw him in San Diego; they talk to the mother and father; and they pay his way to go to Mexico, so now the parents or myself don’t have to pay for these kids to go down for a trials anymore. The Mexican teams offer them a clubhouse to live in and some spending money. And they offer them not a contract but an agreement as he grows, how much he will be making when he comes to the first team. So now it is good for the players because the teams in Mexico are competing for the talent that they see in the United States.
Spangler: Is this good or bad for American soccer in general?
Salcedo: It’s going to be good. Right now it is bad, because in order to bring our kids back to the U.S., MLS will need to pay money. If we had the systems here already it wouldn’t be that way. The example now is Michael Orozco, who may be coming back to Philadelphia (edit note: this conversation took place before the Orozco move was finalized). Now Philadelphia and the league has to pay money to get him away from San Luis. But its good at the end. The kids raise their value by going to Mexico, as we’ve seen with Castillo, Orozco, and Francisco Torres. They had to go to Mexico and get noticed in order to be brought back for the national team.
Lalas: And the U.S. benefits because they’ve had a player very well developed at a Mexican league.
Salcedo: That is the plus. I wish and I hope I can be involved later on about how we can benefit– when I say us, I mean the U.S.–as to how we are paying Mexico to train our players because we don’t have the systems here, number 1. Number 2, MLS will also make money. I go back to Michael because I know him on a more personal basis. Michael as the way I see him, in two years of MLS he will be ready to go to Europe. So whatever MLS invests in Michael, they will double that when Michael goes to Europe. I don’t know if he will make it this year to South Africa, but he will make it to the national team now or later. So whatever he did in Mexico helped him in the long run and is helping MLS and the U.S. national team in the long run.
Lalas: Well, thanks so much for joining us Hugo.
Salcedo: Well, I appreciate you guys being on top of this. Because there are more of these kids out there. You mentioned this one kid Moises, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of them that are just too young for us to know about.
Lalas: OK then, one more question. At what point will a Mexican team take a non-Mexican American kid?
Salcedo: Soon. I want MLS to be a top league and I want the national team to be great. I played for the Olympic team, my son played for the national team, but I have to help some of these kids who just aren’t getting the chance to make it over here. Adam and I talked about, but in LA I see talent every day, but its in the local leagues. Even my son (UCLA’s head soccer coach, Jorge Salcedo) doesn’t go see those games. Those kids aren’t going to be discovered in the Sunday leagues. So we have to get them out to some mainstream games, so they can be seen. But I can assure you American kids will be playing in Mexico soon also.
Zocalo Square from the roof of our hostel. Taken during last summer’s U.S. v Mexico qualifier.
Rene Leal is an associate editor at Goal.com and spent a year down in Mexico with two Mexican teams.
Lalas: When you first went down to Mexico to train with Pachuca, how did they find you?
Rene Leal: Mine was a bit different than the rest. I was playing in a club in Dallas; we didn’t qualify for the Dallas Cup, so I ended up going to the Cup and taking a look at these Mexican teams. I ended up meeting one of the scouts, Felipe–I never got his full name–he is all over Mexico, always trying to find new talent. I talked to him, and he actually told me about an academy in Austin, Texas. The academy is affiliated with Pachuca. I went out to Austin for a week and trained with the 1990’s team and it was automatic. He told me that I would be a great candidate to go try out for the actual Pachuca team down in Mexico. In the summer of 2006 I traveled down there and that is when the journey began.
Spangler: What was the situation like down there? Were you welcomed by other players and staff or were you this crazy American who had just showed up?
Leal: I was welcomed, but it was an interesting situation. I was welcomed by Angel Gonzalez, who is the legendary scout who found Cuauhtemoc Blanco, so he does a lot of scouting for Pachuca and several teams in Mexico City. So I was being welcomed by him, which was an honor for me, and by the coaches of course, J.J. Hernandez, who ran the 90’s team. When I was down there I got the opportunity to train with the second division team, which were all older guys.
Lalas: What is the living situation like for you and all these guys going down to Tigres or San Luis?
Leal: It was definitely an interesting situation. I was not expecting what actually happened. I was put in a rather small house with about 60 foreigners, mostly South Americans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans.
Lalas: Wait, how many? 60 or 16?
Leal: No, 60–there was a lot of kids, ranging from the age of 14 to into their 20’s.
Spangler: Yet you describe it as a relatively small house?
Leal: Yeah, it was a small house. We would be put in rooms of 4, per room. Midsized showers. We’d wake up and train three times a day. We’d have our breakfast and everything, but the living situation was a little difficult for me to adapt. Living with strangers, coming from different backgrounds, it was an experience.
Lalas: Did you feel like a foreigner or did you feel Mexican–you obviously have Mexican roots?
Leal: It was a mixed feeling. I’m Mexican-American, I know Spanish, but everyone knew. From my accent they could tell right away that I was not from Pachuca or from Mexico. They knew I was coming from the U.S. It was mixed feelings. People welcomed me at times and at times it would be a little rough. I was the new guy in town, coming from the States, everyone thought I was this rich kid.
Lalas: And you were injured then correct?
Leal: I injured my left ankle, which took me out almost a month. About then I went to Mexico City where I was supposed to have try-outs for Atlante when they were still in Mexico City. That didn’t work out because of the calendar, and I didn’t have any contacts there. So I ended up flying to my hometown Monterrey and had a two-week trial with Tigres and from there, it was a situation where I was going to have to wait a few months to get everything arranged, so I wouldn’t play for a few months, or I could start right away with a 4th Division team in Monterrey.
Lalas: Is this a good path to take for American players?
Leal: Oh definitely. Not only do you get a feel for what it is like to train three times a day, which was something that no one does here, but it was also a learning experience, a growing experience. I grew as a person. I learned to be more independent and not rely on my parents of course, and just learn to make the right choices. I had errors along the way; it was a journey of almost a year. I was down there 10 months, but it was a good one. I learned a lot of stuff and still have contacts with players playing first division down there that I met in Pachuca.