Christian Lucatero is a talented player caught between countries, though you won't hear the 17-year-old Pasadena, Texas, native portray it that way at all.
An attacking midfielder emerging after four years in the Houston Dynamo system, Lucatero is a Mexican-American of notable footballing talent. What that means for him, like it does for so many other children of immigrants in the U.S. who display potential in the sport, is a battle for his loyalties is erupting before he even makes his professional debut.
"Sometimes it would be better to have just one country so people wouldn't be upset about your decision of what country you want to play for," said Lucatero about the choice.
"But it's also helpful to be able to play for both teams. If one of them doesn't want to pick you up and the other does, it's helpful for your career."
Lucatero isn't idly imagining such a scenario. Though he's soon to be bound for Oregon State, where he'll play college soccer, the leading scorer for the Dynamo under-18s is on the radar of both the United States and Mexico. Previously called up by the U.S. U18 team, Lucatero recently returned from Mexico, where he trained with El Tri's U18 side for the first time last month.
The news that Mexican coaches wanted to give him a look wasn't expected. "I was surprised. It came out of nowhere. [The call] came two days before the camp," Lucatero recalled.
Distinct differences between his American and Mexican experiences emerged quickly.
"Everything was different," said Lucatero. "The [Mexican] players, the coaching staff, their vision. They're a lot more technical. Most of the players have signed contracts with their current clubs.
"It's all about soccer there. It's just about all they ever do," explained Lucatero, highlighting the culture divide. "We still go to school, we're still involved in other things. You go over there to Mexico, and it's just about the soccer."
For a player like Lucatero, identified by some as the best prospect ever to emerge from Houston's academy, Mexico's allure lies in more than just his familial connections. It's about the soccer, and the way it's played south of the border.
"I'm more of a technical player. I like to play more on the ground than the long-ball style," Lucatero said, emphasizing his comfort level in Mexico.
Lucatero is quite clearly a typical American kid. He just happens to be one with ample athletic ability and deep Mexican roots. Those roots colored everything when it came to growing up with the game and might play a large role in his international future.
"When we watch the games, we definitely support the Mexican national team," Lucatero said. "Both of my parents are from there. But I like the U.S. soccer team as well, they're on the rise. [Choosing] is kind of difficult."
The decision to go to Oregon State is one Lucatero is happy with and one he said Mexican coaches were unconcerned by. They promised they'd keep an eye on him and his development, and obviously the United States is doing the same. Lucatero did mention that if the Americans can establish a more technical passing game as head coach Jurgen Klinsmann plans, it will help in the process of winning him over.
"I watched the World Cup," Lucatero commented when discussing the possibility of a style change for the USMNT. "They did a lot better with [possession]. They're enforcing that with the youth national teams as well. I like what [Klinsmann] is doing."
Lucatero identifies Real Madrid's Isco and Chelsea's Eden Hazard as players he'd like to emulate. A little closer to home, the midfielder points to the Dynamo's Oscar Boniek Garcia as an inspiration. Game-changing ability, in the form of devastating skill on the ball—he could certainly do worse for idols.
For the time being, Lucatero will work on his game via the traditional American route in college soccer, rather than move on to the senior team in Houston. Exceedingly humble in his response, Lucatero said he respects the decision by Houston not to offer him a homegrown player contract now. He still hopes to play for the Dynamo in the future.
"Owen Coyle is a good coach. I respect them and their choice," said Lucatero. "I would love to play in Houston. They're helping me develop into the player I want to be and help me accomplish my long-term goal of eventually playing in Europe. The Dynamo would be a great step in my career."
Whatever his ultimate club destination—Lucatero demurred when asked if any Mexican clubs had been in contact after his stint with the Mexico U18s—the choice between the United States and Mexico will loom large. Pragmatism, rather than any sense of loyalty to either side, is likely to be the deciding factor.
"I don't feel like I switched sides," said Lucatero about accepting the Mexico call. "Any opportunity to play for any national team is always great. It was an opportunity to go and experience that as a player."
Not having played in an official FIFA competition for either nation, Lucatero remains eligible for both.
The battle for rising Mexican-American players gets its most prominent stage at the senior level. Emerging talents are often already making contributions for their clubs when the press, or the two nations' respective head coaches, take notice of their exploits and launch into an international tug of war.
But there's also a battle for talent going on at much younger ages, where the players themselves, while full of potential, are far from the finished product. Not knowing whether these players will even amount to senior team contributors is neither here nor there for the coaches anxious to (a) get the best and brightest into their programs and (b) get one over on a rival.
Christian Lucatero is one of those players. Luckily for him, the time to make a decision between the nation of his parents and his American homeland is not yet nigh.
All quotes in this piece were gathered firsthand by Jason Davis, who spoke to Christian Lucatero via phone.