Argentine's soccer move to Portugal could be a U.S. watershed

In the murky waters involved in top European soccer clubs trying to attract promising young prospects, a fee of €8 million for a promising South American striker is a significant yet not astronomical sum. Still, that €8 million -- which is reportedly about to be splurged by Portugese side Benfica on Rogelio Funes Mori of Argentine power River Plate -- could still make Funes Mori a U.S. prep soccer pioneer. The reason is simple: Just 18 months ago, Funes Mori was playing high school soccer in the Dallas area.

As a high school goal machine, Funes Mori scored an astounding 40 goals and made 29 assists with Arlington (Texas) High en route to an All-Area selection by the Dallas Morning News. While that performance wasn't good enough to earn Funes Mori a Player of the Year nod from the Morning News, it was good enough to help encourage Funes Mori and his identical twin brother, Ramiro Funes Mori, to try out for Sueno MLS, the reality show that places one young player with an MLS club. In 2008, Rogelio Funes Mori was one of two winners in the national competition, landing a spot with FC Dallas in the process.

In his brief stint with the FC Dallas academy -- he claims he was never actually offered the professional contract he was initially promised for winning Sueno MLS -- Funes Mori impressed enough to generate buzz back in his native Argentina, from which he emigrated to the U.S. at age 10 with his parents in 2001. After the end of FC Dallas' 2008 season, Funes Mori headed back to Argentina to play for one of the country's most legendary clubs, Buenos Aires' River Plate.

What followed was a rapid rise into River Plate's senior team, for which he has scored four goals in the current Argentinian Apertura season, a steady performance which follows some sparkling moments in the 2010 Clasura, among which was a 24-minute hat trick.

All that potential has had some of Europe's top teams reportedly interested in the 19-year-old for the past month, with both Manchester United and Manchester City of England's Premier League tied to him recently. While those two teams had reportedly backed away because of the asking price for Funes Mori, and other sites have recently linked Italian giants Juventus and Fiorentina, and Spanish La Liga sides Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Valencia with the teenager from Arlington.

A move to any of those other sides would generate more buzz for Funes Mori than a switch to Benfica, but even a move to the traditional Portugese power could make Funes Mori a pioneer for high school soccer in the U.S. The fact that the teenager was able to move on to Argentinian football after dominating Texas high school soccer both underlines exactly why FC Dallas is still reportedly leaning toward opening a residential soccer academy at its Pizza Hut Park facilities, and also how there may be more options for American teen soccer stars than even they anticipate.

For years, high school stars in the U.S. may not automatically be limited by the collegiate system, but Funes Mori is a striking success case that proves American talent will rise beyond the existing limitations of the MLS no matter where it comes from, even choppy high school fields in suburban Dallas.

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