Gregg Berhalter on the Mexican-American recruitment battle

Lizzy Becherano
Gregg Berhalter explains the recruitment battle for dual-nationality players with Mexico.
Gregg Berhalter explains the recruitment battle for dual-nationality players with Mexico. / Omar Vega/GettyImages

With dual-citizenship players on the rise, the tension-fueled recruitment battle between the United States and Mexico strengthens. 

In the past couple of years, international football has seen the likes of David Ochoa, Julian Araujo and Ricardo Pepi make headlines when committing to either side. Two of the three opted to represent El Tri, cementing Mexico’s long held edge with dual-citizenship figures.

While Gregg Berhalter attempts to understand each decision and encourages players to choose “the best fit for them,” he maintains that US soccer should do more. 

“I don’t think enough credit is given to the MLS academies, and what they are doing for the hispanic players, giving them opportunities and raising them through their system," he said.

"For US soccer, we’re identifying those players from a very early age and bringing them into our youth teams. What happens, and there are no written laws about it, is when we identify a player, more often than not, the Mexican federation looks at the youth national team for their player pool as well because they have dual-nationals. 

“That type of thing is fine, because that’s how it is and we have to accept that. But what we want to do is give our players the opportunity to play in our system and enjoy the environment that we’re creating and then ideally let them choose what they think the best fit is for them.” 

But the reality of the situation remains that several Mexican-American players do not feel comfortable representing the United States. 

"I realized that, no matter how much I try, I will never be fully American," explained David Ochoa when announcing his loyalty to Mexico. "Nor will I ever be fully Mexican, so it’s about where I feel more comfortable, and something inside me feels more at home with the Mexican players."

Though Berhalter insists the U.S. Soccer facilities provide a welcoming environment for all, elsewhere, several parts of the country continue to reject Mexican-Americans. Since 2020, there has been a rise in crime against Latinos and Americans of Latino descent in the United States. 

When asked how Mexican-Americans players can be expected to represent a country that rejects them, and their family’s heritage, Berhalter explained “ our environment, we can guarantee it won’t be like that.” 

“There’s a lot of things we cannot control, and there are a lot of things happening every day that we are not happy about, or proud of. But what we can do is, we can guarantee that in our environment, we can guarantee it won’t be like that. And it’s a very welcoming environment, it’s a very close bond the players have. And we aren’t looking at race to determine people’s values. We value everyone the same, and it really is a good group of guys and staff that we have around.”  

Several high profile Mexican-Americans have yet to declare themselves for either side, making these years crucial for both the US and Mexican soccer federations.