Meet the 18-year-old Texas-born defender hoping to make it in Liga MX
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- The life of a young soccer player is filled with challenges. Getting spotted and then signing at a professional club is difficult enough, but ask any seasoned pro and they'll tell you that's really only the start. The push to constantly show improvement, catch the coach's eye, break into the team and then consolidate yourself follows on the conveyor belt of tests.
In the early stages of that process is 18-year-old Midland, Texas, native Brooks Fergerson, who clearly isn't frightened of a challenge. The center-back made the move south to Torreon, Mexico, at the start of 2017 to join Santos Laguna's under-20 squad despite not speaking Spanish, having no Mexican background and having previously never watched a full Liga MX game.
It wasn't as though Fergerson didn't have options to develop his career in America. Before joining Los Guerreros, he was playing for FC Dallas West Texas and spent one season at FC Dallas Premier, but doors really began to open when his friend persuaded him to join an Alianza de Futbol trial in Dallas in early 2016. Fergerson ended up with invitations to try out for the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Atlante, Necaxa and Santos Laguna.
So why head to Mexico?
"For me personally, the decision that was more than just football," Fergerson explained in a recent interview in Guadalajara with ESPN FC. "I knew coming to Mexico would test me personally at such a young age, [especially] not knowing the language. I thought I would learn about football plus learn about myself and test myself. For me, it was more of a personal challenge."
The journey pic.twitter.com/iAwrrf3zJp- Brooks Fergerson (@brooks_ferg) January 6, 2017
Convincing his parents that moving to Santos Laguna to chase his dream abroad became more difficult after the death of Fergerson's older brother, Marcus, in Nov. 2014, an event that clearly marked the young player and his family's life. Fergerson says he dedicates each game to the brother's memory.
"It does take a lot of drive to succeed, just knowing the tragedy me and my family went through," Fergerson explained. "You can obviously use it in a negative way or a positive way and it's hard to always be positive about it knowing he was my brother, but I definitely try to make him proud every time I play."
The process of adapting to life in the confines of Santos Laguna's "Casa Club" has so far gone "a little easier than expected," helped by fellow Americans at Santos Laguna like Carlos Flores and Jonathan Navarro. Fergerson, one of the two non-Mexican players allowed in the under-20s at each Liga MX club, takes three Spanish classes a week and is hoping that when he goes back to visit West Texas, he can impress his old buddies with his language skills.
"My three best friends [back home] are Mexican," Fergerson said. "They speak a lot of Spanish, but for some reason I never picked it up. They were really happy [when I signed for Santos]. They said that when I come back for vacation they hope that I speak Spanish fluently."
He also speaks fondly of his treatment in a Santos Laguna youth system that has fast become one of the standouts in Liga MX.
"Everyone at Santos has welcomed me with open arms, and all the players have been really nice and accepting of me, so it helped me to settle in," he said.
On the playing side, Fergerson has been on the bench for the last three U20 matches, though he is naturally still adapting to the "aggression" and "intensity" of training while awaiting his debut.
One of the first non-Mexican-American U.S. citizens to head south at such an early age to sign professional papers in Mexico, Fergerson describes himself as a two-footed defender who has a good leap and is comfortable playing out of the back.
"Evidently he has a good physique and very good presence. He has interesting defensive characteristics like a good aerial game," Santos scout Ricardo Martinez said in an interview with Telemundo.
"He does things simply; he doesn't overly complicate things in risky situations. He looked reliable."
Fergerson says he simply doesn't think about not making it. Instead, he focuses on succeeding each day at Santos Laguna and taking baby steps to accomplish his "biggest dream" of representing the United States.
There are many challenges ahead in his fledgling career if he is going to reach those lofty heights, but Fergerson doesn't appear to be the type who will be afraid of tackling them head-on.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.