By Ivan Orozco
CARSON, California -- It was a daily ritual.
Miguel Ponce woke up at dawn on weekdays just to get to school on time.
His journey included crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, a train and a school bus just to reach school.
"I crossed walking,"said the 22-year-old left back on Mexico's under-23 squad. "I Waited for the trolley after that and took it to the first stop where I would take the bus. Sometimes I would just walk to the middle school from the trolley stop. I'd do it going home and again the next day."
Then it became a walk to San Ysidro High School in the San Diego suburbs, where Ponce's journey to Mexico's Olympic team and his club Chivas de Guadalajara began.
Ponce spent seventh and eighth grade playing for his school's team and two more years with the high school squad.
He earned the nickname "Mickey", part of the cultural amalgam that comes with living in a border town.
He is a part of a growing trend of players who straddle the United States-Mexico border who have an American passport but carry Mexican heritage.
Ponce was born in Sacramento. His family moved to Guadalajara before he was one and then moved to Tijuana when he was 10. That made it easier for his father, who built bridges in California, to visit. His family used a friend's address in San Ysidro so he could register for classes.
His family made the trip from Tijuana on Friday to see Ponce play Trinidad and Tobago. His aunt and uncle drove from Sacramento.
"The fundamental thing for me was my family's support," Ponce said. "When you're that young, you need a lot of things, especially the right attitude to be able to handle many things in life."
And it was at San Ysidro High where Ponce's life would turn towards soccer stardom.
It was the summer after his freshman year, playing in an all-star tournament in central Mexico. He was 15, and scouts from Chivas de Guadalajara saw him and invited him to a tryout. He ultimately became part of the club's youth development program.
"I didn't think about doing what I'm doing now at that time," Ponce said. "I knew that I liked soccer and that I wanted to play it professionally some day. But I didn't know how I was going to do it."
Ponce has since become an integral part of Chivas, a team that typically only signs Mexican-born players. But Chivas owner Jorge Vergara has recently said that players born north of the border with Mexican ancestry are considered Mexican under the country's constitution.
And it didn't hurt that Ponce's allegiance was with Mexico and not the U.S. national team.
Ponce is one of two players with ties to the San Diego-Tijuana region competing in the CONCACACAF Olympic qualifiers this week.
Joe Corona, a United States midfielder, also grew up in the region and plays for Club Tijuana of Mexico's Primera Division.
Corona played for Sweetwater High School in San Diego's South Bay during the same years Ponce played at San Ysidro.
They never played against one another until last month's Mexico-U.S. U-23 friendly in Frisco, Texas.
"To be honest, I don't remember him," Ponce said. "Somebody else told me he was there but I don't remember him. If I ran into him, I wouldn't be able to tell it was him."
Ponce said he would have played for the United States had the circumstances been different and if U.S. Soccer had asked. He said they didn't. Mexico did.
He was called last summer for the Copa America and played well enough in appearances against Peru and Uruguay that he has become a staple on the u-23 squad.
Ponce is a versatile left back with Chivas, but with Mexico appears to play a more attacking role pressed up the left wing.
Against Honduras Sunday, Ponce roamed the flank, distributing passes, sprinting into open space, and giving the ball back to attackers. Ponce used his speed to venture into Honduras' half and retreat quickly when needed.
Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena has said he considers Ponce is an integral part of their attack.
If Mexico wins Group B and the United States is the Group A runner-up, there is a chance Ponce could see Corona on the field again.
"That would be perfect," Ponce said. "We'll take any rival. But we have to focus on our soccer. And the way we are playing, I think we can compete against anyone."
Ponce doesn't want to look too far ahead. He said he is looking toward the possibility of playing in the Olympics and possibly with Mexico's senior team at some point.
For now, he said he is grateful for the journey that got him here - even the dawn ringing alarm clock.