A pair of Mexico-born soccer players raised in the Northwest suburbs have found a home with the Chicago Mustangs brand.
Forward Alexis Camarena and defender Carlos Aviña have been a part of both the Grand FC Mustangs, Chicago's youth academy, and the professional indoor team the Mustangs, for nearly a decade.
Camarena was born in Morelia, Avina in Mexico City, Aviña moved to the United States at three months and Camarena when he was 1. They grew up in the suburbs, and both are bilingual.
"I think that being able to speak two languages helps a lot because we get to speak to different people from Mexico and here," Aviña said.
They both speak with humility that isn't commonplace for professional athletes of their ability.
Camarena, 24, attended Burlington Central High School, where Mustangs coach Armando Gamboa saw his potential to become a pro. At 16, the Mustangs started a semiprofessional indoor team that Camarena joined.
"What I like most about him is his direct approach," Gamboa said. "He wanted to be a pro, so he worked for it. He has the same mentality for winning."
When Camarena was 18, the Mustangs launched their first season as a pro franchise. He played in 10 games that season, scoring 5 goals with an assist.
Now in his fifth season, Camarena has become a young veteran with 64 games of experience, including five playoff games, and has totaled 36 goals and 13 assists.
"I always say that I'm a learner," he said. "There are always new players coming in with new ideas. If a rookie needs help, I have some experience to help them."
Aviña is one of Camarena's protégés.
"He taught me how to communicate better on the field, and he shows me how to do certain plays better that I'm struggling with," Aviña said. "He has been here longer than me, so he knows more about the game."
Aviña, who attended Bartlett High School, started playing with Grand FC Mustangs when he was 11. "When you grow up, you reach a certain age when you know what your body can handle," he said. "For me, it was 19."
Gamboa relished the opportunity to have another homegrown product make the jump to the first team.
Aviña is in his second season with the first team, having played 19 games with 2 goals, 1 assist and 5 blocks.
"Obviously for me it's been hard getting a spot on the team," he said. "It motivates me to work harder in practice. I am competing with five other defenders for a spot. I'm one of the youngest, so that (can) make it harder."
When Camarena scored in his debut (Dec. 15, 2012), Grand Sports Arena, the Mustangs' current practice facility, was their home venue.
"This building has grown a lot. I remember setting foot in this facility for the first time," Camarena said. "There were two soccer fields, a hockey rink and a skateboarding (park)."
Now, the facility has four indoor fields. More important, the team also has grown so the Mustangs now play home games at Sears Centre Arena.
"For us, it means going out there and representing Chicago," Aviña said. "Being able to play in front of friends, family and fans motivates us to work hard and win. Playing in the Sears Centre is amazing. Having people watch you play is the best feeling a player can get."
That should be a feeling they experience in Chicago for years to come as they continue to help the franchise grow.
The Mustangs host Ontario in their home finale at 3 p.m. on Sunday. For tickets visit chicagomustangspro.com.