Luis Bueno
Friday August 21st, 2009

CARSON, Calif. -- For Jesús Padilla, life in Mexico was splendid. Since joining Chivas de Guadalajara as a 14-year-old, he said he was well-liked and got along great with everyone.

"I'm a cool person," he said. "I'm not [a] greedy person. I get along with everyone."

He rose through the ranks, earned some playing time with Chivas and even started a family. But the breakthrough he longed for never really happened. Now, Padilla is back in his native California trying to make his way in life. He's not necessarily concerned about national teams or choosing sides, or even where he'll be come January. For Padilla, life is simple these days.

"Right now, it's more important if I could play, give all the skills that I've got and show all the people I can do it," Padilla told SI.com days after he joined Chivas USA. "I'm here just for six months and [to] win a championship here."

With his playing time back in Mexico all but nonexistent, Padilla stands to play in MLS from the start and should become a key player for Chivas USA.

The six-month loan also could be an audition of sorts. Padilla is not an unknown commodity to his new coach. In 2006, Padilla spent a month in Chivas USA's training camp. That month was enough for then-assistant Preki to see that Padilla was a worthwhile player. Preki was elated once Padilla joined his team, after nearly two years of chasing after the San Jose, Calif., native.

Now that Preki has his prized player, he expects the best. Already, Padilla has been slapped with the No. 10 shirt and is set to add some offensive punch to a team that needs it. Just how much of an impact will Padilla have on MLS? "He's going to be one of the better players in the league," Preki said.

If Padilla, a father of two, does have a breakthrough half-season with Chivas USA, a call-up to the U.S. national team camp might not be out of the question. After all, the annual January camp is filled mostly with MLS players, and Padilla spent one month of the '06 preseason with the club, back when current U.S. coach Bob Bradley was in charge of Chivas USA.

And even if accepting a call-up to the U.S. national team means dealing with the fallout from Chivas, Padilla would be prepared to accept it.

"I just look at me, for my career," he said. "What could be better for me? That's how I look at it."

In some ways, the 22-year-old is a trailblazer. While he was not the first American-born player to suit up for Chivas de Guadalajara, he joined the club after he was scouted as a teenager. He essentially forced a policy change with the club. Before February '08, Chivas' policy was simple: Only "Mexicans born in Mexico" could wear the famed red-and-white stripes.

But in February '08, SI.com obtained a copy of Padilla's birth certificate, which showed he was born in San Jose, and not in Jalisco, as Chivas claimed.

Yet somehow, the club stood by him and chose to change its policy to accept publicly and allow the likes of Padilla -- children born in the United States to Mexican parents -- within their ranks.

"I was nervous a little bit," Padilla recalled feeling a year ago. "My dad flew from San Jose to Guadalajara to be there with me. Chivas did a good job. They protected me a lot, the fans agreed that I could play there, so everything was fine."

While he still toes the company line -- "I have a Mexican birth certificate, too" -- Padilla's future is in his own hands. He sought out a move to MLS. He's not limiting his options -- he said he would be open to playing for the U.S. national team. Ultimately, it's his career and he will have a say in it.

Padilla said he rejected a previous offer to represent his birth nation. In '07, he had the opportunity to play for the U.S. Under-20 national team ahead of the '07 U-20 World Cup. But he said he turned down the offer of his own free will, although he was influenced by Chivas and a possible negative fallout from the front office.

"It would have been a good opportunity, to play in a World Cup for the U-20s, but sometimes you make decisions and you never know if you made the right or wrong one," Padilla said. "It was more about Chivas. If I would have went, I couldn't have played for Chivas anymore. It was a tough decision."

Though he chose club over country, Padilla wasn't exactly rewarded with more playing time. He struggled to break through on a front line that included players such as Omar Bravo and Sergio Santana. Fellow youngsters Omar Arellano and Javier Hernández broke through with the first team while Padilla spent more time with second-division side Tapatío than with the first team.

When Bravo returned to the club earlier this season, Padilla wanted out -- at least temporarily. Eventually, club officials worked out a six-month loan deal that saw Padilla end up in MLS.

"I was always open-minded to come back to MLS," he said. "I have family near here, in San Jose. I was excited to be here again."

Padilla is just one of two Mexican-league players to head north this week. Luis Ángel Landín joined Houston on a loan deal that runs through the end of the 2010 season. After not having much success in attracting young players with a potentially large upside, MLS' two high-profile moves this week could have a great impact on similar moves in the future.

Young players have come up from Mexico to MLS before, most notably Juan Pablo García in '05. But while García failed to pave the way for other such youngsters, perhaps coming to MLS on a loan would become a better option for young players struggling to break through for their Mexican club teams.

Cuauhtémoc Blanco proved that a player can come directly from the Mexican league to MLS and have a major impact, but Landín and Padilla also could show that young and talented players can have a similar effect on the league.

With the potential for a) playing time, b) immediate success and c) financial success here or upon returning to Mexico, young Mexican league players may start to view MLS as a more viable option.

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