Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Californian Miguel Palafox Breaks Through With Leon

The 19-year-old defender is yet another product of the Alianza de Futbol Hispano organization, which helps young Hispanic-American soccer players get discovered.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 15, 2014
8:01 PM
TONIGHT, AS CLUB LEON hosts Pachuca in the first leg of the Liga MX Clausura finals, it's clear that the club has established itself as one of Mexico’s best after winning the Apertura in 2013.

Like many Mexican clubs, Leon has invested heavily in youth players, and one avenue for doing so is by developing a relationship with the American organization Alianza de Futbol Hispano. Alianza seeks to provide young Hispanic players in the United States an avenue to get noticed without the typical “pay-to-play” formats favored by most teams. Alianza isn’t a set club but rather a series of showcase events held around the country. Eventually the best players are selected for additional regional and national events.

Leon is one of several Liga MX teams that are now active in scouting players through Alianza, and the club recently gave a ringing endorsement to the American organization on its Facebook page.

Already two young American-born players from Alianza have made their debuts for Leon's first team. Pasadena native Dennis Flores, who previously had never represented the United States at any level, made his first appearance for Leon in March and soon after was invited by U.S. Soccer to its first-ever U-21 camp (which he couldn't attend due to club commitments).

Last month Miguel Palafox, 19, was named to the starting lineup for Leon’s away game against Toluca. As a native of the San Fernando Valley in California, Palafox joined Leon on November 14 following a successful trial arranged by Alianza. Initially, the trial was for the club’s U-20 team but Palafox was quickly transitioned to the senior squad.

Palafox's physical attributes—he is six-foot, solidly built, and left footed— are part of his appeal. A gifted passer, Palafox played forward in high school but later moved to left wing where he played for Leon’s U-20 team.

When he was moved to the first team earlier this year, Palafox made the transition to central defense, which he thoroughly enjoys. He believes his future is on the backline—either in central defense or left back.

Palafo tried out for both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA organizations but did not catch on with either. In the case of Chivas USA, he was told to come back the following year as he was too young.

“I just kept telling myself, 'Don’t give up,'” Palafox told American Soccer Now from Mexico. “When I was young, I never joined big clubs. I would always play Sunday leagues in L.A. My friends told me to try out with this Alianza program. It was free. I went with his friends and made it to the finals where I was noticed by Leon scouts.”

When Palafox arrived in Leon in the fall, the transition proved difficult. Despite being born in California to a Mexican father and a mother from El Salvador, he says his Spanish was “not great” when he arrived.

He quickly made friends with Dennis Flores and the two have risen through the ranks at Leon quickly. On April 12, both Flores and Palafox were named to the starting lineup together for the first time. While the game ended with a 2-1 loss to a strong Toluca team, it was a career milestone—even if Palafox believes he could have done better.

“That whole week, everyone was saying Miguel is going to start but others were saying no,” Palafox recalled. “Every practice I was trying to give it my best and the day before the game, my coach told me ‘You haven’t played a lot of games with the U20s but I believe in you. You’re going to do well this weekend. I like the way you play and I am going to start you. How you feel about that?’"

“When I stepped on the field, I tried to keep it calm but my legs were heavy,” he added. “I was nervous. To me I didn’t like the way I played. I think I could have done much better so I am hungrier right now to show everybody what I could do.”

Alianza director Joaquin Escoto has been aware of Palafox’s talent since his Alianza trial. While Palafox was one of the better players in Alianza, Escoto is surprised at his rise in Leon and notes that with the success of Palafox and Flores, Leon is hoping to add more players from Alianza this year.

“From the local event where he tried out, he was a top player,” Escoto said. “In the nationals, I would say he was not in the top 5 but he was in the top 10. If you were to tell me he would make his debut this fast, I would say, ‘No way.’ But it’s about timing and things really came together for him. He was training well at center back. The coach liked him. He was right there.”

On the international front, Palafox has gone unnoticed by the United States, Mexico, and El Salvador, and has never represented any country at the youth level. His birthday—December 29, 1994—means he missed the cutoff for the U-20 level by three days, so his next big international opportunity would be the 2016 U-23 Olympic team .

Growing up, Palafox switched his rooting interest between the United States and Mexico frequently. Despite the heated rivalry between the two countries, Palafox insists that his allegiance will be with “whoever gives me the opportunity first."

While Escoto believes that Palafox will need more seasoning at Leon’s U-20 team, in part because of his position change, he also believes Palafox’s natural ability will carry him a long way both with Leon and at the international level.

“Like Dennis, he was with the U-20s and became a first-team player,” Escoto said. “Miguel will be very similar. He will be one player U.S. Soccer can’t ignore.”

For now, however, Palafox is simply enjoying how far he has come for one of Mexico’s most recognizable clubs, and at the same time he understands that the next steps will be harder to make.

“I still can’t believe I made my debut,” Palafox said. “It’s a dream come true. I’m still hungry for success. This is just one small step. There’s more big things for me.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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