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Well-traveled local product Rickson Van Hees trying to make his way in pro soccer

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 7/23/2021 José M. Romero, Arizona Republic
a man holding a football ball on a field: Valley native Rickson Van Hees, 19, is playing soccer for North Texas SC in USL League One. © North Texas SC Valley native Rickson Van Hees, 19, is playing soccer for North Texas SC in USL League One.

The small gathering at the Van Hees home had been brought together by a soccer match. But not just any other game, in this household. 

It was late June, 2014, and the World Cup in Brazil had reached the knockout round, with Mexico and The Netherlands playing each other in Fortaleza. 

Mexico fans will never forget that game, as it is forever known as the "No Era Penál" game in which Arjen Robben of Holland was ruled to have been tripped inside the 18-yard box by Mexico's Rafa Marquez, and the penalty kick that resulted from the call sent Mexico home while the Dutch advanced with the win from the kick.

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The Van Hees family includes mother Patricia Batres, who is Mexican. The father is Werner Van Hees, who is Dutch. At least one of their two children, son Rickson, decided that choosing a side to root for wasn't a good idea. 

"You had to be neutral. You don't want any fights going on," Rickson said with a slight laugh. "A lot of people say it was a penalty. A lot of people say it was not. I'm not going to say anything."

More: Mexico headlines Gold Cup soccer quarterfinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale

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Batres said her son never picked a side.

"He did not want to hurt our feelings," she said via text message from Holland.

Seven years later, Rickson Van Hees is 19, and living his own soccer experience. At age 13, he left Arizona to play in world soccer's highly regarded Dutch soccer academy system. 

After six years in The Netherlands, playing on developmental clubs with a three-game stint with the United States men's U-17 national team, the next opportunity for the right back was in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He's there now, trying to break into the lineup with U.S. third-division side North Texas SC, a club affiliated with FC Dallas of Major League Soccer.

"I want to develop into a first-team player, no matter where it is. Whether it's here in Texas or wherever else, I want to be in the top level," Rickson said. 

He added that he wants to make his family proud.

Batres says Rickson was five years old when his father watched him running around a field in Anthem where his brother Massimo was playing a game. Soon Rickson was playing on teams, and later with the SC Del Sol academy based in North Phoenix. 

Werner, who'd played at a high level in his native land, had soccer contacts in Holland, and arranged for Rickson to get a trial with Vitesse Arnhem, a club with a team in the country's first division. The team's staff liked what they saw, and the Van Hees family had to make a decision. 

They chose to allow Rickson to remain in Europe and begin his soccer dream.

"All of the sudden it just went fast. They took him in and my husband says 'Yeah, they want to keep him.' And I'm like 'What?'" Batres said. "So my whole life changed right there, and it was really hard because he was 13 years old."

For the first six months, Rickson lived with his grandmother until his parents could settle things in Arizona and move to Holland. He took in Eredivisie matches, the top league in the nation, and was even a ball boy for one of them.

Even though Rickson missed out on perhaps the typical American high school experience, the teams he played for arranged for him to continue his studies while training. Rickson is a dual citizen now, and speaks both English and Dutch. 

Rickson switched clubs to NEC Nijmegen, and in late 2019 was surprised to be called up by U.S. Soccer's U-17 national team for a four-team tournament of friendly matches in Florida. 

"It was an honor. I never imagined being called up for a national team. Never crossed my mind," he said. "I did well in The Netherlands and I guess they saw that, and when I got there, it was crazy."

He played against The Netherlands in Florida, facing players he was familiar with. A few of the Dutch players were making big money having been signed by top-flight clubs. 

"I cried. I felt so proud. To see that little kid achieve his dreams is amazing," Batres said.

Then came some adversity, and the pandemic. 

After not having "my best year" as he put it, he met with his agency and was directed to an opportunity with North Texas. Rickson found that FC Dallas did a good job of developing players and getting them to MLS, and signed with the club for this season with an option for next. 

Breaking into the regular playing rotation as a defender since then has been difficult. Rickson had a couple of injuries to deal with upon arrival to the club, and hasn't gotten much of an opportunity. 

But he's remained positive, and Batres says her son is mentally strong and not discouraged by his current situation. 

"You always have to keep your head up and keep going. No stopping," Rickson said.

CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals

4:30 p.m., Qatar vs. El Salvador

7 p.m., Mexico vs. Honduras

Saturday, State Farm Stadium

What to watch for: Mexico is an 11-time North American region champion, looking for its 12th title and ninth Gold Cup trophy. No country in the CONCACAF soccer region of the world has won more. Qatar, the Asian Cup champion from 2019, won its group, as did Mexico, and both will play group runners-up in El Salvador and Honduras. The doubleheader, which will produce the semifinalists that will play in Texas next week, has been announced as a sellout by CONCACAF. Mexico has not conceded a goal in three tournament games. Honduras has two wins over Mexico in all-time Gold Cup play, however. Qatar leads the tournament with nine goals as a team, and El Salvador is looking to advance to the tournament semifinals for the first time its history.

Get in touch with Jose Romero at Jose.Romero@gannett.com. Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM. 

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Well-traveled local product Rickson Van Hees trying to make his way in pro soccer

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