In the past few years, many Mexican clubs have taken an interest in American players. Several clubs have placed particular emphasis on youth players, scouting extensively in the United States for the next Jose Torres, Joe Corona, or Edgar Castillo. No club has put more resources into recruiting young Mexican-American players north of the border than Pachuca.
In September, I sat down with Marco Garcés, head of scouting for Pachuca to discuss the phenomenon of Mexican-American players heading south in ever greater numbers (a larger article on this topic will appear in issue three). Garcés was in San Diego for a tryout, which brought players from throughout the area who hoped to get noticed by Pachuca.
I began by asking Garcés how often he and other Pachuca scouts attend tryouts like the one we we were at that day and he recounted how Jose Torres was discovered at a similar event.
Marco Garcés: The other guy I’m with now, he’s the one who discovered ‘El Gringo’ Torres. And it’s funny because he was just telling me about the story of how he found him. They took him to a similar kind of event, like this one. There were older players, 24 or 25, so he thought, ‘wow, there’s not much to see.’ But then he saw a guy who looked a little bit younger. He was quite smart playing against older guys. He managed to outthink them. So he asked about him. They said, ‘no, he’s younger, he’s 15.’ So he said, ‘I’m interested in him’ and took him to Pachuca.”
David Keyes: When did Pachuca start to get interested in US players and what resources has the club put towards finding such players?
MG: We’ve been doing it for a while and with some success, but we think we need to improve to get a better structure. Now, many clubs in Mexico are scouting in the US. Xolos is doing a great job, Tigres when Dennise ten Kloese was their chief scout. They’re doing a great job scouting great players. We think we need to up our game in the US. Even though we have good players that come from the US. For us, the real challenge is not only identifying good players but retaining them. Because once they go to Mexico and they’re used to this great way of life, they live in Pacific Beach, they go to the mall every weekend, it’s not easy for them to move to Mexico. The lifestyle is very different.
DK: So have you had cases where players have gone to Mexico and said, “I can’t do this”?
MG: We’ve had it a lot. I can think now of 2 or 3 important players. I can think now of Kevin Huezo. I think he was happy with the football but he wasn’t happy with the way of life. You live [in the US] in one of the best places in the world so it’s hard to recruit from here.
DK: Why do you think there are so many talented players in the US who are slipping through the cracks?
MG: I think the way that American soccer is organized creates a chance for us to come scout. Because you have these players who are not linked to any professional club. And even if they are linked to a professional club, you can still take them. They’re not tied in by a contract or anything. You can just come pick anyone. In Mexico, if there’s a good player, he’s probably involved in some kind of professional team. Then you have to buy him. Nobody knows exactly how to value him because everything is potential, everything is speculative. So it’s a lot easier to scout in the US in that sense.
DK: How many people from Pachuca come to the US?
MG: Pachuca has 16 full-time scouts and loads of informal relations who push players to us. … Everyone goes everywhere. We try to specialize in age groups, not in regions.
DK: How often do you come to the US?
MG: I’ve been coming a lot. Last week I was in San Francisco. A couple of weeks ago I was in Los Angeles. As long as there are invitations and something happening, we try to go watch. We always scout Dallas Cup, for instance. But there’s not a very good structure for how we choose to go to different places and we need to improve in that.
DK: You got connected through an ex-professional named Jesús Cárdenas to this tryout. Is that typically how you get connected with these events?
MG: Yeah, that’s usually the way. It’s usually because of some kind of relationship that we scout [a particular event]. Obviously, Dallas Cup and ODP and that kind of tournaments are always interesting. They’re well known and we attend. But I think we need to improve our structure.
DK: When you do identify players and talk to their parents, what do they say about the possibility of their kid going to Mexico?
MG: There are two main concerns. Obviously, security and the other is the academic follow-up. In that area, we’re ahead of other clubs in Mexico because we have a university link at our own club. We also have a gated community and it’s very safe. Pachuca is a very safe city. Those two concerns are easier for us to get around. Kids will continue with their studies. They can do up to a PhD at the university if they want. They can keep studying. And it’s a gated community with CCTV so it’s very secure. But those are the two concerns parents express when I ask them about coming to Mexico.
DK: Do you see differences overall between youth players who develop in the US system and those who develop in Mexico?
MG: I think they’re much more physical and athletic in the US. The concern, and this is a concern that everyone in American football stresses, is that they don’t get as good competition in the US as in Mexico. They go to college, and in college they play 3 months. I’ve talked to Thomas Rongen when he was coach of the U-20 national team. They had a boy, Kelyn Rowe, playing in UCLA. He was getting the same kind of games that Mexican players get every week playing against America, Pumas, León. And they play in the Copa MX, they sometimes play in the first division. They’re really in performance-related football while the American boys are not getting that kind of competition. For us, it’s key. The only way to get better is to compete against better players.
DK: I’ve heard others talk about the idea that players in the US are stronger mentally. Have you seen that?
MG: I wouldn’t say so, no. I think Mexico in the past few years, the amount of things we’ve won has made everyone more confident and believe in the chance of winning something.
DK: So you don’t see that as being the reality?
MG: No, I don’t think so. It’s a very different thing. In Mexico, football is a way out of poverty in the bigger scheme of things. I know there are a few players in the US who would see it as a way out of poverty, but soccer here has evolved as a college boys sport. … The US is the only place in the world that [soccer is played mostly by affluent people]. The history of soccer in the US is exactly the opposite of everywhere else in the world. I lived in England for four years. I know that Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, they come from some of the poorest parts of Liverpool. They play because they want to help their families out of poverty. In the US, that’s not the case.
DK: Have you ever tried to take a non-Mexican-American kid down to Pachuca?
MG: Yeah, we tried to take DaMarcus Beasley. He decided to go to Puebla. We’ve tried to take a couple more, like Kyle Beckerman, we’ve been very interested in him. Brek Shea is very interesting. We’d love to take someone like him.
DK: Have you ever expressed interest in young players, someone say 16 or 17 years old, who’s not Mexican-American?
MG: Yes, but there are a lot of issues there. First, you can’t have foreigners who are underage.
DK: But if they have a Mexican passport, they don’t count as a foreigner?
MG: Right. So if I take a kid who is 15, I can take him over there. But when he turns 17 and enters into professional football, then I won’t be able to register him because FIFA won’t allow me. He has to be very, very good so that we consider that he would still be good without playing one full year. It’s tough because it’s in the main part of your development. We need to explore different options, like loaning him to a team in the US or something like that. The problem for us is quality. If you find the right quality, you will find a way to keep him on your team.
DK: I’ve heard that in a tryout like this, the main thing you are looking for is individual talent, as opposed to team play. Is that accurate?
MG: There are a lot of things I look at. First is technique and individual talent. If he looks at certain things and knows what he’s trying to do. Even if he can’t achieve because he’s never played with his teammates. But you see that he sees something and tries to do it. Then the athletic thing, if he’s got something going for him. And then for us it’s very important the way he behaves. Does he complain a lot about his teammates? Do you think he can learn? Does he take feedback? That, for me, is key. Because you see someone and he has potential but you’ve got to figure out if he can learn or not.
DK: Is there anything else I should know about the phenomenon of Mexican-American players getting scouted by Mexican professional teams?
MG: Well, I think with years it has changed. Now there are Mexican-Americans who are not Mexican at all. They were born here, they’ve never been to Mexico in their lives, some of them don’t speak Spanish. So they’re Mexican-Americans but a different kind than generations before them. Some of them are being called by both national teams. He wants to play for the US. His name is Edwin Lara, he’s a 1999 and he wants to play for the US. He asked me, ‘does that affect my chances at Pachuca?’ I tell him, ‘it doesn’t affect Pachuca. I work for Pachuca. My job is just to bring you to Pachuca.’ Of course, I’d love to see him play for the Mexican national team, I’m Mexican, but that’s separate. As long as you play for Pachuca, I don’t care about the rest. We’ve got Hérculez Gómez, El Gringo Torres. In the end, we’re developing our own competition in a way.
DK: So Mexican clubs are aiding the development of the US national team.
MG: You know what’s very funny? Last week we called a player, an American. He’s an under-20. We can only have two foreigners in our under-20 squad. He doesn’t have a Mexican passport. So he’s looking for ways to become Mexican. He has a Mexican stepmother. I was talking to him and I said, “there’s 20 million Mexicans trying to become American and there’s one American trying to become Mexican.” We don’t even know how to deal with that! We don’t have the paperwork for that!” No, he’s back in the US now. He had to come back. He was a good player. His name was ‘Tren’ Biswell.
DK: So there are a lot of players in the US who would like a chance and who you think could make it at Pachuca?
MG: It’s very interesting for us in the US. There are 40 million Latin Americans, some of them play really well. And they’re not attached to anyone. I think eventually you will change the rules in the US.
DK: I’m surprised that there hasn’t been any change yet where the youth team that develops them gets some kind of compensation.
MG: They don’t ask for compensation. It’s weird. I can go and watch the U-20 Galaxy train and take their players.
DK: And the Galaxy won’t say anything?
MG: They can’t say anything. And the salaries … Omar Gonzalez, I spoke to him and he earns almost nothing. He can earn ten times what he earns here in Mexico. But if you want to buy him because they ask for millions and millions. But if you say to a player, “don’t sign” and they go for free to Mexico and earn a ton … I don’t understand the way they do business here.