by MOSES LEOS III
Recent Lehman High School graduate Fernando Mercado has always dreamed of reaching the professional soccer ranks.
From his early days playing at the Academy level, he aspired to play in the elite tier of the soccer world.
Later this month, he will get one step closer to his dream, as he will sign on to play with Club de Futbol (C.F.) Merida, or Venados de Merida (Merida Bucks) of the Ascenso MX league.
Mercado is excited to sign with his new club, which is only one step from the premier series in Mexico, Liga MX.
“There’s no other words to better describe the feeling except for, ‘feels like a dream come true,’” Mercado said. “Since I was four years old, I knew there was no other place I’d rather be and no other thing I’d rather do. It is a dream come true for me.”
Mercado began his playing career in the Academy level of soccer. He played with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Lone Star Academy, then Classic Elite USSF Academy. The level of competition within the tier helped shape his soccer career.
“At the Academy level, we were playing against players that were affiliated with [Major League Soccer] clubs,” said Mercado. “Every year, the conditioning got better, the level of play became much tougher and there was more talent to go up against. It helped a lot.”
However, due to his size – 5 feet, 7 inches and 135 pounds-Mercado struggled to find a starting position within the higher tier Academy clubs. According to Mercado, the United States mentality toward soccer is to find the biggest, strongest and fastest players on the pitch. While Mercado was able to make the Under-15 and Under-17 national teams, his size kept him back.
“I am a quick player, that plays with flavor,” Mercado said. “While I am not the fastest player, I like to use my speed to push past defenders. This was not something [US soccer] was looking for.”
Mercado played at the Academy level until his junior year of high school, when he showed interest in playing at Lehman. However, because of rules against playing on high school teams, Mercado was suspended from his Academy for playing in the 2010 Rebel Cup.
From that point, he continued to play for the Lobos under head coach Jay Sansom. The lessons learned during his time there were equally beneficial.
“I loved playing [at Lehman]. I enjoyed working with the coaching staff and the players as well,” Mercado said.
During his junior year at Lehman, Mercado held the previous record for most goals scored in one season at 25.
Mercado was in line to continue his career at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. However, while training at the Indoor Zone soccer complex in Austin, Mercado met his now mentor and agent, Sonny Guaderrama.
Guaderrama, who is an Academy coach and scout from Cedar Park, noticed Mercado and offered him a chance to join on his semi-professional team, Austin Premier Professional Academy (APPA) Aguilas.
Mercado performed well in his first exhibition match with the Aguilas, earning a penalty shot. Eventually, the shot led to an assist, helping the team win 1-0. The next contest he played in was a league game, where he again played at a high level. Guaderrama’s brother, Willie, extended Mercado an offer he could not refuse.
“[Willie] told me he saw a lot of good things from me. He then asked, ‘How do you feel? Well, you are about to feel much better, because you are going to Mexico for [professional]tryouts.’” Mercado said. “He never really said about going to Mexico, so it was a total surprise.”
After his parents helped pay for his ticket, Mercado made his way to the Yucatan, where he participated in tryouts for the Venados. Within the first week, he participated in scrimmages, where he netted three goals and two assists.
His expertise of quick, agile movements worked well in the Venados organization. In addition, he was training with athletes beyond his age range.
“I’m only 19, while the rest of the team ranges from their mid-twenties to late-thirties,” Mercado said. “It was a great experience to train and work with those players.”
Mercado faced off against various players at the highest levels of the Mexican soccer leagues and the national team. Mercado trained with Jose Luis “Parejita” Lopez of Nexaca fame, Juan Pablo “Loquito” Garcia, who played for Chivas USA and Juan Carlos “More” Mosqueda, who played for CF America.
The ability to play with his childhood heroes meant a lot to Mercado.
“I watched these guys play when I was little,” Mercado said. “It is a dream to play along side and against them.”
However, he also went through his ‘welcome to the professional world,’ moments as well. During the first week of tryouts, Mercado was pushed and harried by many of the experienced pros.
“As a new player, they knocked me down, pushed me around when I got my first ball into [open]space. Initially, I was a little intimidated,” said Mercado. “However, a few guys on the team informed me to not be afraid, to not let those players get to me. They told me they had my back. Once I understood that, I became more comfortable.”
Eventually, his efforts allowed C.F. Merida to hold on to him. While he was concerned he may not make the team, as players were sent home, the club told him to get his paperwork in order; Mercado had to become a citizen of the country in order to sign with the team.
Now a citizen of Mexico, Mercado is prepared for the next step in his career – something Sansom is excited to see from his former player.
“I think it is a great opportunity for him to truly display his talent. He is an outstanding player. I hope he thrives there,” Sansom said. “I told him to be humble and make others around him better. They are all good .He works hard on the soccer field and as long as he keeps focused on the main thing he will be fine.”
Mercado knows the real work now begins.
“My goals for the year are to make the starting lineup, and tally goals on the score sheet,” he said.
C.F. Merida is located in the city of Merida, the largest city in the state of Yucatan and the Yucatan Peninsula. The Venados finished in fifth place in the first half (Apetura) of the 2012-2013 season, then twelfth in the second half (Clausura) of the year.