Alianza de Futbol: the program giving young Latinos a shot at soccer stardom

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The Alianza de Futbol Hispano is devoted to developing Hispanic amateur soccer in the US and it does so by differing from the conventional pay-to-play model

Like many young players across the country, Rodolfo Ramrezs dream is to make it as a professional soccer player. Eventually, I see myself playing in Europe, says the 15-year-old Mexican American from De Pere, Wisconsin, a suburb of Green Bay. But I want to start in Mexico, just like Osvaldo.

Ramirez is talking about his older brother, a member of Chiapas FC in Liga MX, who moved to Mexico from De Pere after showcasing his talents last year at a tryout event hosted by Alianza de Futbol Hispano, an organization which focuses on the development of Hispanic amateur soccer.

Never give up: there will be many people who will tell you theyre crazy, but you must ignore them, said the 19-year-old Osvaldo, shortly after getting picked up by Chiapas. You can achieve your goals, with hard work, discipline and the support of your family. All you need is an opportunity, like I had with Alianza.

Officially founded in 2004, Alianza de Futbol has become the biggest amateur program for Hispanics in the US, and offers what are probably the largest scouting events in the nation. Alianza organizes sponsored tournaments, tryouts and clinics for thousands of young Hispanic soccer players across 12 different cities. In addition, players who wish to follow a collegiate career have a chance to receive academic and financial aid thanks to the non-profit group Alianza U, whose aim is to mentor and guide those who aspire to play soccer in college. Other events include Alianza Femenil, for female players, and the Coca Cola Cup a national tournament for girls and boys teams under the age of 15.

Inspired by his brothers journey, Rodolfo Ramrez decided to attend one of Alianzas events this year, hoping to get noticed. He and his family traveled all the way from Wisconsin to Florida, with the hope the hard work would pay off. Rodolfo did so well he was selected to take part in Sueo Alianza, a national showcase taking place this week in Miami. This year, more than 9,500 athletes registered to take part, and 54 of the best were chosen to attend the organizations biggest event, where 30 scouts and coaches from MLS, Liga MX, USL, national youth teams and US colleges get a chance to analyze potential talent.

Im very thankful to his organization, said Ramirez. They have done so much for me, my brother and really, my whole family. I owe them so much.

Alianza de Futbol Hispanos stat card for Rodolfo Ramrez. Photograph: Alianza de Futbol Hispano

Our goals and objectives for this organization boil down to one thing, says Rafa Caldern, Alianzas director of national tryouts and events: To offer thousands of kids an opportunity of becoming professionals but also experience a professional environment without any financial burden to them or their families.

All of Alianzas events are completely free, and for those chosen to be one of the 54 finalists for Sueo Alianza, the organization pays for all the travel, food and accommodation.All a player has to do is show up.

This is why our alliances with our sponsors are so important, says Caldern. This program costs a lot of money, and without these partnerships, these families would have had to pay a fee so thanks to them they dont have to worry about paying anything, and thats huge.

Despite the obvious focus on Hispanic youngsters, the events are open to anyone, and being Latino is not a requirement. Players come from all over the globe to join in and they dont need to speak or come from a Spanish-speaking family.

One thing that makes this the tournament unique is that, by contrast with the well-respected Sueo MLS, where only two winners (outfield player and goalkeeper) receive an invitation to join an MLS academy team, Alianzas tournaments have no limit or exclusivity on who gets chosen. Since its inception, more than 500 players have been invited to try out for a club or an academy, and 50 have signed a professional contract including Mexican Under-20 star Edwin Lara and Dennis Flores, who plays for Len in Liga MX and has represented the United States Under-23 team.

Rodolfo Ramrez and his family are a glowing example of a community who benefit from an organization that not only pays attention to young Latino soccer players who simply cant afford academy fees, but make them their absolute priority. Paying for soccer was just never going to happen with us, says Ramirez. The fact that that Alianza is free make it so great.

But money is not the only reason why these players and their families choose these events. Perhaps the biggest factor is Alianzas active presence in the Hispanic community.

These programs go to where these kids are, promoting heavily on social media and forming alliances with networks such as Telemundo to really pay attention to the people they are trying to reach. Their local managers and staff who work in the 12 cities are all Hispanic and are members of the community so they already understand the type of player who is trying out on any given day. This, in essence, is very much a grassroots project with a national outreach whose main goal is to give an opportunity to kids who are mostly ignored by bigger soccer institutions in America.

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