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by ANDREW GARDA
garda@montclairlocal.news

MHS sophomore Salvador Pliego plays for the Mounties, his club team TSF, and the Mexican National U16 team.
Photo submitted by Laura Pliego

Most Montclair High School students will spend the next month planning how they will relax during their April Spring break and maybe how they can scam their younger siblings out of Easter candy.

Not Salvador Pliego. Instead, the 16-year old sophomore will be preparing for a trip to Mexico City and Europe as part of the U16 Mexican National team.

It will be Pliego’s fourth trip with the team since September, and another step on the road to his ultimate goal of playing professionally in Mexico once he graduates high school. A dual-citizen, Pliego was born in Mexico City and later moved with his family to the United States and Montclair.

Pliego has been playing soccer his whole life. He began, as most kids in town do, playing as a kinderkicker, then graduating to the Montclair United organization. As he grew more serious, Pliego moved on to the travel clubs, following a coach he liked from team to team.

As time went on, his dedication allowed him to join the Under-11 team with the New York Red Bulls’ youth academy. While most travel clubs take you around your home state—perhaps going to a nearby state for a tournament on occasion—the Red Bulls U11 team was the junior version of the professional soccer club, which meant where the Bulls went, often the youth teams went as well.

Pliego has played soccer since he was very young, starting as a kinderkicker. Photo submitted by Laura Pliego

It was not long after that when Pliego came to the attention of the US National team and was called up for their U14 roster. After a year with that team, while continuing to play with the Red Bulls organization, Pliego decided he wanted to play with the Montclair Mounties.

He couldn’t do both, as you cannot play high school soccer and be a part of the Red Bulls Academy. Pliego’s plan then became to join a club called TSF in Lincoln Park, New Jersey and then play with the Mounties in the fall as well.

But one definite benefit came from playing with the Red Bulls: it was there the Mexican National team saw him.

National teams are always looking for talent, and while Pliego’s Red Bull team was playing in the Dallas Cup in Texas, some scouts for the Mexican National team came away impressed with his game.

They reached out for permission to talk to his family from the Red Bulls, then spoke to Pliego’s family directly. He immediately jumped at the chance to play for them, especially since his father and grandfather were such avid Mexican soccer fans.

It’s akin to being drafted by the New York Yankees.

Unlike with the American Academy soccer teams, there are no restrictions against playing for a high school team, so Pliego left the Red Bulls Academy to play for MHS. For him, it was the best of both worlds, pursuing his dream of playing professionally in Mexico but also getting to spend time playing with friends in his hometown.

Pliego ended up on the Varsity squad as the starting center defender. He had made the squad the season before, but because of the restrictions that came with being on the US roster, he couldn’t play.

That was just one of many hurdles he has to deal with in balancing his life as a normal high school student and that of a player on an international team.

Luckily, both the Mexican team and the High School have been very accommodating.

According to Pliego’s mother, he gives his teacher’s notice when he knows he has a trip coming up, and they will prepare work for him to take on his trip. One the other side of the equation, the Mexican team requires two hours of study a day and has tutors available to help the athletes with their homework.

MHS is going even further as well, helping Pliego work his schedule so that he can graduate in December of his senior year. That way, when he turns 18 in January, he can immediately play as a professional.

Pliego already has about five or six teams interested in him, so his dream may very well become a reality.

Until then, Pliego is in the unique and wonderful position of being a high school sophomore traveling to Mexico every few months and, soon, to Europe for a major tournament. Very few kids get that chance, and that alone makes his experience special.

With help from the MHS community, his family and the Mexican National team, though, it’s only the beginning.

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