Hugo Salcedo's important role 

December, 26, 2011

Every good American soccer fan is familiar with the series of urban myths insisting on the existence of a hidden abundance of unidentified talent in the U.S.: "If only the country's best athletes played soccer; the game needs to catch on in inner cities for the national team to really take off; there are thousands of talented Latino kids in parks around the country who never have the chance to be discovered."

Each one is its own theoretical minefield -- great for heated discussion among friends, but with little factual resolution in sight. Except maybe the one about the Latino kids. In 2011, there's proof that the American system still isn't doing the job at finding Hispanic talent.

For instance, if there aren't a ton of talented, undiscovered Hispanic soccer players in the U.S., then how does a program like Sueño MLS work? If you're not familiar with the annual televised talent search on Univision, it's enough to know that it's turned out a pair of pros from the opaque depths of American grassroots leagues -- Chivas USA regular and current American Olympic team hopeful Jorge Flores, and forward Gabriel Funes Mori of Argentina's River Plate, who's been linked to Chelsea among other clubs -- both of whom might not be playing soccer today had the traditional American system been charged with finding them.

It's probably too much for even one player of that quality to find himself off the American youth soccer radar. But two? And those close to the situation say it doesn't end there -- not by a long shot.

"Unfortunately, we don't have the systems to develop a player that has no means," says Hugo Salcedo, a long-time advocate in the Hispanic-American community in Southern California, who also happens to be a former American Olympian in soccer. The de facto coordinator of a growing player pipeline from Southern California to Mexican club team academies, Salcedo has been involved in youth soccer for decades. He even spent some time in the '90s at MLS headquarters, trying to figure out how to incorporate more Hispanic players into the U.S. league. After years in the game, he's concluded that the system simply isn't set up to accommodate much of the Hispanic talent in the country.

Brent Latham is a soccer commentator who covers the youth national teams for Based in Guatemala, he has attended youth World Cups from Peru to Egypt, and places in between.