MORGAN HILL -- It was a day of heroic headers, precise passes, slick slides and lots and lots of butterflies.

Aspiring soccer stars put their best feet forward Sunday, as hundreds auditioned for a spot on the Mexican or U.S. national or developmental teams, pro teams and soccer academies.

Players from as far away as Texas and Ensenada, Mexico, descended on the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center, where scouts watched two recruiting scrimmages run by Alianza de Fútbol Hispano, a soccer promoter and recruiter for pro leagues.

"I couldn't sleep last night," said Omar Piña Jr., of Menlo Park. "When I was little I used to dream about this moment -- trying out and getting recruited."

The confident, well-spoken 14-year-old, a freshman at Summit Preparatory High in Redwood City, has played soccer since he was 5, learning from his father, Omar Sr., a former pro player on a Mexican third-division team. Omar Jr. "dreams, breathes and eats soccer," said his mom, Monica Pilotzi.

These are not just pipe dreams. In the seven years that Alianza has run U.S. recruitment clinics, 35 of its players have signed professional contracts in the United States or Mexico, including San Jose native Julio Morales, who played on Mexico's under-20 World Cup team. Those with Mexican nationality can play on Mexico's national team; others can aspire to play on various pro teams.

Promising players


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Edwin Lara, 14, of San Leandro, was recruited last year to play on the U.S. under-17 national team, and spent a couple of months at a training camp in Florida. Now the Mexican national team also is eyeing him as well. "I haven't made up my mind yet," said Edwin, a sophomore at San Leandro High.

On Sunday he listened attentively as Alianza's Rafa Calderón talked about Monday's upcoming scrimmage for the 40 players culled from tryouts.

Santa Lara, Edwin's father, said, "I'm more excited than he is. He's used to so many things happening."

It may sound overwhelming to judge 22 promising, high-caliber players in a 20-minute scrimmage, but Calderón said, it's not so difficult.

"I'm looking for two things: technique and decisions made on the field," he said. "In five minutes, I can tell if you might make the cut."

Even watching warm-ups is instructive. Do players hustle? Are they paying attention?

"That player," Calderón said, motioning to one boy, "he's got too much energy." He watched another player, he'd seen in previous years and was likely a keeper.

"They dream of being the next Raúl Jiménez," said Pilotzi, referring to the Mexican forward who scored the memorable bicycle-kick goal against Panama in the recent World Cup qualifying match, and last month signed with Atlético Madrid in a deal worth millions.

Not only youth, but also adults donned cleats Sunday in a bid to realize lifelong dreams.

"It's now or never," said Glenn Alejandro Ocampo Flores, of San Jose, who put aside his fútbol-playing vision when his children were born. Now 28, the father of four said he's been playing and practicing in preparation for the Mexican leagues' audition for its 7-by-7 futsal-style teams and beach soccer teams.

While he works as a janitor at Levi Stadium, Ocampo said soccer is his passion. Like many of the auditioners, Ocampo said he didn't get much training growing up. That's exactly why Alianza holds annual auditions aimed at Latino players in the United States.

"You have to pay a lot of money to play on good teams," said Luis Trejo, a coach with the San Jose Earthquakes Academy. "Latinos can't afford it."

Skills showcase

Sunday's tryouts and tournament were the 11th stop on a 12-city tour by Alianza. And the day was all-soccer, with a tournament for teams of school-age girls and boys, a ball-juggling contest and a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship.

For boys younger than 18, the lure of being selected as an elite player is that they can join Mexican teams' developmental league, without waiting until they become of age -- as one U.S. player did last year.

For the tryouts, "Kids have the opportunity of a lifetime to play their hearts out," said Darren Rankin, of Alianza.

So 500 boys auditioned for spots. The family of Edinilson Blanco, 17, and Jonathan Blanco, 15, woke up at 4:30 a.m. to leave their home in San Rafael in time for the tryouts.

At the end of the day, about 40 boys -- half under 16 and half under 18 -- were called back to scrimmage Monday against the Earthquakes' Academy team, the final audition for scouts. Among them were Lara and Edinilson Blanco.

Whether or not their children made the cut, several parents said, it was a good opportunity for them to showcase their skills.

"Whether he goes to the university on a soccer scholarship or plays for a team, we will support whatever is best for him," said José Carlos Murrieta and Juana Rojas, of San Jose, whose son José, a 10th grader at Overfelt High in San Jose, was trying out. "We hope for him to become something more than we are."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/noguchionk12.