Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

Mexican soccer scouts eye area talent pool

Club representatives visit local affiliate

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Good Counsel boys soccer head coach Julio Zarate has long coached elite area talents. His club team, formerly known as the MSC Dragons, was recently ranked as the top U-18 boys squad in the country.

With Pachuca FC USA, Zarate is starting to turn his national success into an international pipeline.

Saturday and Sunday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Zarate's new club welcomed representatives from Pachuca FC, the longest-running professional soccer team in Mexico, of which Pachuca FC USA is an official affiliate. Five-hour scrimmages showcased members of 12 squads; practices rotated and assimilated U-9 through U-19 players.

The scouts from Mexico, which included Director of Recruitment Angel Gonzalez Monter, are beginning to explore the Montgomery County-based club in hopes of eventually signing players for their four first- and second-division teams.

"It's happening so fast," said Zarate, who coached in Montgomery Soccer, Inc. for over 15 years, "that you wouldn't believe it. They wanted to bring pro scouts to see the talent we have. You know they watch all these kids and their talent and they think, ‘Wow, imagine if we coach these kids early.' I invited most of my [Pachuca] kids, but I invited everybody, they didn't have to be on the Dragons."

Eight players have also attended a training camp with the pro team in Hidalgo, Mexico, and they weren't all Zarate players. Bethesda Soccer Club brothers Ernesto (U-17) and Christian (U-14) Mejia have trained with the Mexican club since late July. The latter, a goalkeeper, is soon expected to sign a professional contract.

But most of the players that came out last weekend were Zarate protégés, with a handful piquing the professional club's curiosities. One of the select few was Watkins Mill's 2007 All-Gazette first-team striker, Ben Hanson, of whom Zarate said, "They want him, they really like him."

Hanson only attended the Friday morning session for the exercise.

"Julio just told me to come out; I just got back from England two days ago," said Hanson, an England native who committed to Loyola College. "I'm actually going to school tomorrow to practice. Why not get the extra fitness?"

Several other Dragons drew praise from scouts in the morning practices, including U-18 Dragons Ayao Sossou and former Magruder striker Draymond Washington.

Zarate expects multiple players to sign with Pachuca FC throughout the year, a testament to the amount of local talent on display last week.

Pachuca has been one of the most successful clubs in North America over the last decade, winning five Mexican league championships, three CONCACAF titles and the 2007 SuperLiga, which showcases teams from Mexico, Canada and the United States.

Bill Rozek, co-founder of Pachuca FC USA along with Zarate and Bill Britt, felt the exhibition was a step in the right direction for his club.

"You can see, it's just blown up," said Rozek, whose son Ben is a rising sophomore midfielder at Good Counsel. "Until they come down here, they don't know what they're going to see. Obviously they see this is the real deal."