Young Mexican players find it harder to fulfill their potential in MLS, with the Mexican club system offering an alternative
Somewhat under the radar last week came news that two former Mexican youth teamers had parted ways with FC Dallas.
To be more precise, Bryan Leyva and Ruben Luna were cut by the MLS side. When a former Mexican U-17 World Cup player and a forward who was on the radar screen for last year’s Mexican U-20 World Cup team, which finished third in the world, are getting cut, something’s not quite right.
Just last year - and indeed even earlier this year - Luna and Leyva looked like some of the brightest young prospects for FC Dallas, a team that has a very good record of developing young talent.
“Ruben Luna’s been with us for a year and a half, and I think he played in 15 games last year. We know he’s going to contribute, and we hope it’s this year,” FC Dallas Coach Schellas Hyndman told me at the onset of this year’s MLS preseason.
“The other player that’s coming on for us is a Bryan Leyva, the first player we brought in from out academy,” the coach continued. “He’s still going through the learning curves of understanding that no how matter good you are, you need to play on both sides of the ball. We’re seeing some great improvement with Bryan, and this may be the year he’s gonna find himself on the field a lot more.”
This was the year that Leyva would find himself on the field a little more, but rather than a step forward, the result was the decision that he didn’t fit into the FC Dallas’ plans.
We know that MLS has its particular deficiencies in terms fielding young players. Bringing in middle of the road, experimental, sometimes overweight veterans to soak up playing time that could go to hungry young players instead has been a favorite pastime of many MLS teams for years.
But in the case of the two former Mexican youth internationals, it’s hard to say they didn’t get something close to a fair shake. Luna was heavily used last year by Hyndman, and Leyva was someone FC Dallas was hoping could help out as of the beginning of the season.
“That doesn’t mean he’s ready for a starting role,” Hyndman said in praising Luna. “We play with one striker and that makes it more difficult for players like him. We go to two strikers and I think he’ll find the field much quicker.”
Instead, Luna found the door. Roster rules may have come into play. The players’ initial contracts were up, meaning that, as home grown designees no longer, they may have been set to count against the salary cap for the first time in 2013.
If that’s the case, it’s certainly a catch-22 for young players who sign on in MLS as so-called “home growns” - more and more of them Mexican. Without a strong reserve league to speak of - the reserve teams play a handful of games but young players have little chance for serious, meaningful action - most young players are still unlikely to develop fully on an MLS roster.
For clearly talented players like Leyva and Luna, that just wasn’t enough. The problematic part is that the players have now lost a crucial developmental phase in their soccer careers. Once high ceiling prospects for Mexico, both look now more like probable career journeymen.
The message for prospects in the U.S. of Mexican descent is clearer than ever: head south. The competitiveness of the Mexican developmental system may make it harder to stand out, but the constant games at the U-15, U-17 and U-20 levels mean young players have better odds of developing to their full potential in the end.
We’ll never know if that might have been the case for Leyva or Luna. It’s a shame, but hopefully it will be a lesson to other young Mexicans in the U.S.
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