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Alvarez unsure whether he'll pick Mexico, U.S.

Mexico
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 By Tom Marshall

How the FMF wooed Jonathan Gonzalez and other dual U.S.-Mexico nationals

ESPN FC's Herculez Gomez gives his take on where the U.S. fell short with Jonathan Gonzalez, leading him to choose to play for Mexico.
Highly coveted American teenager Jonathan Gonzalez will file a one-time switch to play for Mexico after rising to stardom with Monterrey in Liga MX.

The news that youth international Jonathan Gonzalez was shifting his national team allegiances to Mexico represented a bitter blow to U.S. Soccer and sparked an inquest into how and why an 18-year-old midfielder, who has excelled for Monterrey in Liga MX, slipped away, especially considering that the California-born midfielder had seemed intent on representing the country of his birth.

But for the Mexican football federation, it was the latest example of consistent work to attract dual nationals to El Tri's program.

An important cog in that drive has been FMF director of national teams, Dennis te Kloese. Previously, the Dutchman was in charge of youth national teams and put into place the federation's overall youth structure, including the scouting program.

In the days leading up to Gonzalez choosing Mexico, Te Kloese traveled to the United States to talk to the player and his family. It was part of a process that included conversations with Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio and which eventually convinced Gonzalez that his future at international level lay with El Tri.

With the move capturing attention on both sides of the border, Te Kloese told ESPN FC how he process unfolded and why such players are so important to Mexico.

How long had you been tracking Jonathan Gonzalez?

Dennis te Kloese: We've always have scouts at the Alianza de Futbol events that are organized in the United States and at which there is actually a lot of talent of Mexican-American descent. One of our scouts remembered that one of the outstanding players [in the 2013 showcase] was Jonathan. We've followed him at Monterrey.

I think we've always been interested, looking at him and following his progress. We knew that he was formally committed to the Under-17 and Under-20 project of the United States and wasn't so interested in changing federations at that point.

I think having a more important role in the Monterrey first team made him change a little bit, as well as probably not being taken into account for the [2017] U-20 World Cup and at full national-team level [in November]. In conversations with him and his parents and expressing our interest and our desire to have him compete for Mexico, I think little by little his interest also started to grow, not only for now but also for the future.

When did you think you had a realistic shot at bringing him in with Mexico? As late as November or December?

DTK: Yes.

Dennis te Kloese expects more national team switches of dual U.S.-Mexico nationals in the future.

How important are dual national Mexico-U.S. players to the FMF?

DTK: At least since I started working here [in 2011], from what I remember, we've always had some Mexican-Americans in our program, like Uvaldo Luna, Richard Sanchez, Jesse Gonzalez, Julio Morales, Efrain Alvarez and Abraham Romero. Due to the fact there is so much talent in the United States of Mexican descent and with the possibility to represent both Mexico and the United States, the case of Jonathan will not be the last. It's not only on the men's side, it's also the women's side. It's just a different situation. There's probably not a country in the world where so many people from one nationality live in a neighboring country.

In the end, we were discussing with Jesse Gonzalez his change in federation last year. He was very important in our youth program. I understand that there are sometimes disputes for players, but it is both ways. It's not like a win-win situation always. Our policy has been to leave it up to the players and their families to choose. In the end, it's their decision and they need to be 100 percent convinced of the opportunity to play for us. Obviously, the standard is high to be part of our program.

Do you have scouts working in the United States?

DTK: Yes, we do have people that work for us. It is very difficult to be honest because it's an enormous country and there are so many games and leagues and their structure ... To really control the scouting is very difficult. So what we do is focus on certain areas, certain events and on a people that provide information that we think is useful.

The intensity of scouting is obviously much more focused on our league here in Mexico and on the youth competitions here, but we do have people working for us in the U.S. It's also so the Mexican population knows that the Mexican federation is present and that it is close to and aware of their kids and the talent that is in the United States.

What do you think the future looks like in the rivalry for dual U.S.-Mexico nationals?

DTK: If you look at the tendency of growing populations, in the future there will be a bigger Mexican-American population than there is now, so it'll be a growing thing. The popularity, the quality [in the U.S.] has been growing a lot, which means they develop a lot more competitive players.

I think their youth program is very well structured. I think their scouting is very well structured. They really detect the players that they should be detecting because I don't really think that they overlook players to be honest. I do think that the identities of the two federations are different. We need to be very respectful about going about our business in the United States.

U.S. Soccer is also scouting players and has brought in players [to national teams] that compete in the Mexican league and it will continue. How much it will grow, how important it will be is difficult to predict. I do think that there will always be competition over players -- both men and women -- because it's just the fact that there is an enormous population of Mexican-American players in the United States and that compete here in Mexico. We need to continue to be on top of things because in the end it's a player's decision and a family decision.

Do you think it's a negative for Mexico that the United States aren't in the World Cup?

DTK: I regret that the U.S. is not in the World Cup. I do think that with their internal structure, looking from the outside, that they will come out of it stronger. They honestly have a lot of talent, they honestly have a good structured program and they go well about their business.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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