BOYDS, Md. - Twenty of the best 15-year-old soccer players from the region competed in a tournament this weekend for a chance to train with some of the biggest stars of Liga MX - the highest level of the Mexican football league.
In all, more than 250 players - grouped in four age divisions from 6 years old to adult - competed in the two-day tournament hosted by Alianza de Futbol at the Maryland Soccerplex.
In the 15-year-old group, the top two or three players will be chosen for a spot in the Alianza National Showcase, to be held September 19-22 in Los Angeles.
This weekend's camp was part of an 11-city tour of the program. The tour started in Phoenix in April and will make stops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver. The next stop is Chicago on July 13-14, and the tour will end in El Paso on September 7 and 8.
The level of talent brought out the watchful eyes of top scouts from the U.S. and Mexico.
Brian Rowland, a scout for U.S. Soccer, said any number of traits could catch a scout's eye. "We're looking for technical ability, the ability to play with speed, and obviously athleticism, and potential."
Rafael Calderon runs the 7UP Sueno Alianza program for the 15-year-old age group, and along with technical skill, he was looking for kids who play with a sense of joy.
"Win, lose, or draw, you have to learn, and this is a part of your life. Basically, we're looking for human beings," Calderon says.
Officials say a lot of former players are mentoring the youth in the current program. One is 17-year-old Jorge Calix. He played in the 15-year-old group before joining the U.S. National Under-17 Team last season.
"It helped a lot," he says, "because playing with the best players in the country only makes you a better player."
Alianza de Futbol Hispano is the largest grassroots soccer organization in the U.S., with more than 20,000 members.
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