The <i>Other</i> Football: Alianza de Futbol proves that soccer dreams are free

Julio Morales playing for the U-17 Chivas team, Apr. 1, 2011 (Photo: courtesy Alianza de Futbol)

Julio Morales playing for the U-17 Chivas team, Apr. 1, 2011 (Photo: courtesy Alianza de Futbol)  (SIMON BARBER © 2011)

Why pay-to-play?

Without charging players a cent, Alianza de Futbol helps youngsters realize their soccer dreams by presenting their talents to a who's who of top scouts from the United States and Mexico.

Alianza says 50 of its alums have turned professional since it launched its showcases in 2008, and with two showcases to go until the final one in Miami next month, there is everything still to play for.

"We don't represent these players. We are not their agents. We are not making any money [off] of them – and that has been a huge plus in the community," said Joaquín Escoto, the Alianza director.

"Usually when people do showcases or try-outs – especially if it's an independent company – there's a financial part to it, and we don't take any part of that. We pay for everything – and for (the teams), there are no transfer fees."

The showcase tour takes in 11 cities across the country including New York, Chicago and Houston, and it’s there that Alianza officials select the best 24 players from the under-16 and under-19 age groups.

Then they bring them to the national showcase in Miami.

In Miami, coaches of the U.S., Mexican and Colombian federations train the youngsters in the presence of scouts from 16 of the 18 teams in Mexico’s Liga MX, as well as the likely presence of scouts from the MLS and NASL.

Alianza is the brainchild of sports marketers Richard Copeland and Brad Rothenberg, whose father, Alan, was president of U.S. Soccer from 1990 to 1998 – during his tenure he oversaw the 1994 World Cup, which the U.S. hosted, and oversaw the creation of Major League Soccer (MLS).

Seeing a shortfall in soccer opportunities for Hispanic children and adults, the BRC Group founding partners used their marketing experience to get firms to sponsor local soccer tournaments. These evolved into national tournaments as well as Alianza’s talent showcases.

While the project was created with Latino players in mind, Escoto stresses that Alianza is open to all. He expects about half of the new class at the final showcase to be invited for further try-outs, or even signed on the spot.

"In the soccer world in the U.S., the better you are the more expensive it is," Escoto said. Advancing becomes more and more difficult for players of 15 or 16 who are outside the academy system of MLS teams.

"For the Hispanic [players] to be in a travel team in an affiliated club, you have to been spending $3,000 to $5,000, and that's the only way to be seen," Escoto said.

Alianza gets its funding from sponsors, which include Telemundo, Powerade, Allstate insurance and Ram trucks. They don’t take a penny from the players or their families, Escoto stressed.

“Alianza helped me a lot to make my dream come true,” said Julio Morales, a 21-year-old forward originally signed by Guadalajara of Liga MX in 2011.

“When I was in the U.S, my dad saw the commercial on the TV and told me to go and make the try-outs.”

After a spell at the now-defunct Chivas USA, Morales is now on loan to Deportivo Tepic in the second-tier Ascenso MX league.

In January, Morales got a call from Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the U.S. national squad, to join the team for its first winter camp after having pledged his future to the U.S.
“It's a very good program for the kids, especially for the Latinos in the U.S.,” Morales said about Alianza.

After Giansebastian Goicochea heard about Alianza from a friend, he gave it a try and wound up getting picked up by Liga MX’s Atlas. Now 18, he’s not only playing for its U-20 team, he’s also training with Colombia's U-20 national side.

"It feels great, it's a wonderful experience and it’s something different,” said the dual U.S.-Colombian national.

“I would invite more people to sign up [for the Alianza showcase events] because it's a great opportunity. I would like to succeed in my club and to one day have the opportunity to go [play in] Europe.”

Other alums have gone onto play with MLS teams FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes and Liga MX teams Tigres, León, Monterrey and Pachuca, among others.

Video of the week

From our friends over at Fox Sports – watch this amazing scorpion kick goal by German third-division defender Carsten Kammlott of FC Rot-Weiss Erfut in his team’s 3-1 loss to Dynamo Dresden last week.

From the wires

Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos signed a new contract Monday that will tie him to the club for the next five seasons.

The 29-year-old Ramos had been linked to interest from Manchester United throughout the offseason.

"As I said at my presentation 10 years ago, forming part of this cub is a dream and I want to keep living it as long as possible," Ramos said at a news conference attended by new coach Rafa Benitez.

Neither club nor player revealed the financial details of the contract, but Ramos said he received offers of more money from other clubs.

"I know that these negotiations have been drawn out . but my heart has always been here," Ramos said. "If this had been about money I wouldn't have stayed."

Since arriving from Sevilla in 2005, Ramos has helped Madrid win one Champions League trophy, three Spanish league titles and two Copa del Rey titles. His injury-time goal in the final of the 2014 Champions League forced extra time, and Madrid ended up beating crosstown rival Atletico Madrid 4-1 for its record 10th European Cup.

"Sergio Ramos is a symbol for Madrid's faithful," club president Florentino Perez said after Ramos had signed his new deal.

Ramos also formed part of Spain's 2010 World Cup-winning team and its two European champion squads.

Ramos will be Madrid's team captain this season, taking the armband from goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who left after 16 seasons for FC Porto.

Madrid opens the Spanish league season at promoted club Sporting Gijon on Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.