HARRISON, N.J.— Fernando Arce wore the fabled green of the Mexican national team 47 times, and has fashioned a career spanning more than a dozen years playing for many of the top teams in Mexico. So you would think that the thought of his son, and namesake, playing for the United States would be heartbreaking.
Not even close. In fact, Arce calls his son’s decision to play for the U.S. Under-20 national team a source of pride.
In an exclusive interview with Goal USA held after Chivas Guadalajara’s 1-0 friendly loss to Bayern Munich on Thursday night, Arce beamed with pride at the thought of his son blooming into a young professional soccer player, and a player good enough to one day play in a World Cup.
“The truth is I became very happy because he has worked so hard,” Arce told Goal USA. “He saw me grow as a player and national team player, and with everything I’ve told him about my experiences, he has had the dream of playing for a national team.”
Initially, Fernando Arce Jr. dreamed of playing for Mexico, but when his father joined Club Tijuana in 2011, Arce. Jr. moved away from the area of Mexico where most Mexican youth national team players are drawn from.
The move to Tijuana meant being able to live in San Diego, and also put Arce Jr. on the radar of U.S. Soccer, which was aware that Arce Jr. was eligible to play for the USA, having been born in Chula Vista. Previously having trained in the youth systems at Santos Laguna and Morelia prior to the move to Tijuana, Arce Jr. has continued to develop and made his professional debut in March at the age of 17.
During those formative years, Arce didn’t draw much attention from the Mexican youth national team setup, but did catch the eye of U.S. scouts.
“In Mexico, the soccer setup is very centralized,” Arce said. “Pachuca, Guadalajara, a little bit of Monterrey, Pumas, America, that entire central zone, the national team has a heavy influence because the people with the national team are there.
“It seems Tijuana is a bit forgotten, and that’s where he was with me, and the scouts from the U.S. noticed him and saw value in him and gave him the opportunity to represent that country,” Arce added. “He accepted it gladly because he discussed it with me for several months about what the decision meant and what could happen.”
Asked whether his son’s decision shocked him or saddened him, Arce made it clear that he was always going to back his son’s final decision.
“It doesn’t affect me at all. I respect a decision that we made together,” Arce said. “He didn’t make it by himself, because I, as a father, gave him advice and I want the best for him. He decided, we decided, that he had the opportunity to play for a national team and he chose the USA because he felt certain about wanting to play for the United States and felt confident about fighting for a place on the team.”
Talk to Arce long enough and you get the sense that he hasn’t completely given up hope on his son potentially playing for Mexico down the line. According to FIFA guidelines, Arce. Jr. could represent the United States on the youth national team level and still switch to Mexico as long as he didn’t play for the senior U.S. team in an official competition like the Gold Cup or World Cup.
Arce wouldn’t go so far as to say that he was hoping his son would change his mind, insisting that he is behind his son’s decision to the fullest.
“He has made the decision well, with a lot of calmness,” Arce said. “He has hopes and his hopes are my dreams. That he can have a long career, and an important career with the national team. That he can one day play in a World Cup.
“He has those possibilities today and he wants to work hard to represent a national team and in this case the USA has noticed him. They have valued him and he feels at ease and he feels important, and that’s very important for a player, to have the backing of a national team and a coach so he can succeed.”
Arce Jr. made his debut for the U.S. Under-20 national team just two weeks ago in a friendly against Chile, and is in contention to play for the United States at the Under-20 World Cup in 2015, assuming the USA qualifies. One of several talented young players at Club Tijuana who play for the U.S. youth national team setup, Arce Jr. is a highly-regarded prospect who would likely be one of the youngest players on the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team.
“He’s traded in his friends for the gym, he’s traded in parties for waking up early every morning. That speaks well of him,” Arce said of his son. “He’s very mature, and he thinks things through before doing them. He’s grown up by my side and we’ve talked a lot about soccer almost since he was born. He’s grown up with a ball at his feet, kicking, and he’s grown up with that, so he’s very hopeful with this national team and he’s very happy. So hopefully they keep valuing him.”
Having played for Mexico against the United States, Arce knows the heated rivalry inside and out, and he made it clear that, despite the U.S. team’s efforts in helping Mexico qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the USA-Mexico rivalry is just as intense as ever, and will always be so.
“The rivalry is still the same,” Arce said. “It’s not going to change. The United States had a great World Cup qualifying cycle, and it wasn’t so much that they helped us as their result favored us. When you’re on the field you don’t want to lose and the United States wanted to win, and turned their result around against Panama, and that favored Mexico and helped us qualify for the qualifying playoff.
“The rivalry will always exist,” Arce said. “Mexico, at one time, used to blow out the United States. It used to be easy to beat the United States. Not anymore. Today, it’s a national team that is very competitive, that has players playing all over the world, and that has helped the U.S. team be superior to Mexico in the majority of their recent matches.”
When asked whether he had considered what it would be like the first time his son played against Mexico, Arce paused and processed the thought for what seemed like the very first time. You could tell it wasn’t easy for him to envision the scenario, but it was also easy to see that he would always support his son, no matter who he chose to play for.
“If he keeps playing for the USA it’s very likely he will play against Mexico and he will do that with a lot of pride and a lot of respect because it is a country that has given his father and his family a lot,” Arce told Goal USA. “Now, he will probably be on the other side (with the USA) and he will defend those colors to the death, as it should be.”