Mexico-U.S. dual nationals unhappy with Liga MX's new 10/8 rule
Club Tijuana's Greg Garza laughs about it, but he's not happy.
"I'm not a Mexican-American anymore," the Texas-born left-back told ESPN FC, tongue firmly in cheek. "I'm a foreigner now."
When the Liga MX Apertura 2016 gets underway this weekend, Garza won't be the only U.S.-born Mexican national to be counted as a foreigner in accordance with the league's new 10/8 rule, which limits the number of foreign-born players allowed in each matchday squad to 10.
Pachuca's Omar Gonzalez, Santos Laguna's Jorge Villafana and Queretaro duo Jonathan Bornstein and Luis Gil find themselves in the same boat, despite the Mexican constitution stating that all have a birth-right to be Mexico nationals because they have at least one Mexican parent.
The 10/8 rule was designed primarily to curb the rapid naturalization of foreign-born players by guaranteeing that at least eight Mexican-born players feature in each 18-player matchday squad. Naturalized Mexicans count as foreigners.
There was also a clause relating specifically to Mexican-American dual nationals: "Players with dual Mexican-American nationality can be considered part of the eight (Mexican) players if at the time of their first registration they hadn't turned 19."
In other words, if a Mexican-American player was not registered with the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) by their 19th birthday, they will now be considered foreigners in Liga MX. ESPN FC reached out to the league to inquire as to why they implemented the clause on dual U.S.-Mexico nationals, but had yet to receive a response at the time of publishing.
"I don't see it as a benefit to anybody," said former U.S. international Herculez Gomez, who had a successful career in Mexico as a dual national registered with the league as a Mexican. "It really is a strange thing to see. You are going to see players that were highly coveted not be there, like Omar Gonzalez, who was a great find for Pachuca. If this would've happened a year ago [the deal] wouldn't have happened."
"It's kind of weird that I've been here in Mexico for all these years and all of the sudden I'm a foreigner," added Garza.
Garza, 24, joined Club Tijuana in Dec. 2011 at age 20. He believes his Mexican citizenship -- obtained through his father, who was born in Mexico-- opened the door and gave him a special opportunity, which he took by nudging his way into the first team and subsequently into Jurgen Klinsmann's U.S. squad. Under the old Liga MX rules, only five foreign players were allowed in each squad, but naturalized players and those with Mexican citizenship were counted as domestic players, regardless of where they were born or who they represented in international play.
"To me, it is a bit silly," Garza said. "I can understand [limiting] Argentinians and Colombians and others who have been in Mexico after a certain amount of time. I'm a little bit different. I have Mexican blood in me. It is a bit weird now that I'm on the same page [as other foreigners] just because I wasn't registered at 18 years old."
Garza notes that other Mexican-Americans in Tijuana -- Paul Arriola, Alejandro Guido, John Requejo and Amando Moreno -- will be included as Mexicans despite not all having Mexico-born parents due to the fact that they registered with the FMF before they were 19. Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona, Jose Torres and Ventura Alvarado will all be in the same position.
Garza was hopeful that a "grandfather provision" -- in which an old rule takes precedent while the new one applies to all future cases -- would be implemented by Liga MX.
Fully fit after a lengthy rehabilitation period from hip surgery last September, Garza now finds himself a foreigner competing for one of the ten spots allowed in Tijuana's matchday squad. That there are ten spots available eases the blow for Mexican-Americans who can't be registered as Mexicans, but competition for those places will be fierce; non-Mexico born naturalized players are now also considered foreigners under the new rules. There's even talk of reducing the spots to nine as early as 2017.
But while there are obvious repercussions for players like Garza in the short-term, it is in the more distant future that the new rule may change the whole dynamic of the movement of players to and from the United States and Mexico.
"I think it will discourage dual nationals to come south to play because now it's basically like going anywhere in the world to compete for a foreign spot on a team," Queretaro's Bornstein said to ESPN FC. "When I came to Mexico it was because I had dual citizenship and could play here as a Mexican. Now, if I were to have the same opportunity six years ago with these new rules in effect, I may have considered other options, like Europe or South America."
Garza doesn't believe he would've made the move to Tijuana when he did had he known the 10/8 rule would be implemented in the near future, and Gomez says his life would have also been very different. The current Seattle Sounders striker headed to Puebla at the end of 2009 with his Mexican passport in hand and career on the line. Six months later, he was playing in the World Cup for the United States.
"One hundred percent no," said Gomez, when asked if he would have come down to Puebla had the current rule been in place. "Who knows what would've become of my life? I was blessed that in my five, six years in Mexico it went extremely well for me, I made incredible memories. I was fortunate enough to change my life."
Goalkeeper Austin Guerrero, a San Diego native, has spent the last six years in Mexico. Guerrero, 27, was at Puebla last season, but says he was squeezed out, something which wasn't aided by the fact that he would have counted as a foreigner starting in Apertura 2016.
"You either have to be a third or fourth goalkeeper, or try to find something in the Liga de Ascenso (Ascenso MX), where it is also difficult to find a place to play because they are looking at older guys from Liga MX that got pushed out of a spot," Guerrero said. "So where do you go? It's difficult."
Guerrero has decided to head back up north after missing out on a move from Puebla and is currently on trial with the Seattle Sounders in MLS.
"Look at the movements from first division goalkeepers down to second division teams," Guerrero continued. "(Alfredo) Frausto, (Luis) Michel, (Cirilo) Saucedo, 'Matute' (Garcia), (Armando) Navarette... There are four or five (experienced) guys. How do you compete as a younger guy trying to break into the bubble? Mexico's more about what you've done than what you've got the potential to do."
And with the Liga MX increasingly unwilling to register U.S-based Mexican-American minors due to fears of repercussions from potentially breaking FIFA's Article 19, which restricts the international movement of youngsters, there appears to be a one-year window between the ages of 18 and 19 to bring players to Mexico and register them as Mexicans.
It is perhaps notable that the only player to move south so far this summer has been 18-year-old Alex Zendejas, who completed a transfer from FC Dallas to Chivas last month. If he was to leave Mexico in the next couple of years, he'd be able to return to the Liga MX later in his career and register as a Mexican.
Another option -- in theory -- for dual national players who hope to register before age 19 would be to feature for Mexico youth national teams. But whether that would work in practice remains to be seen.
Gomez believes that Liga MX could become the "Premier League of Latin America" with the opening up of foreigner spots, but it has left the issue of Mexican-American players in something of a muddle.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.