Brent Latham: Jorge Enriquez needs to use Mexico as a steppingstone

Enriquez will make the jump up to the full national team this week, and he might need to take a similar leap forward at the club level to continue his development.
In midfielder Jorge Enriquez, El Tri fans may have even more reason to celebrate than they realize. That much is likely to become even clearer over the next few days, when the midfielder turns out for Mexico’s full national team.

After storming to prominence at last year’s U-20 World Cup, and then the Olympics earlier this year, everyone knows that Enriquez is a baller. What’s left to be realized perhaps is to just what extent Enriquez could upset the apple cart as far as rating Mexican players worldwide.

The bottom line here is that the 21-year-old Enriquez has the potential to become one of the best Mexican players ever. Were it not for Hugo Sanchez, that statement could even be made without the qualifier.

Things are just beginning for the Chivas strongman. A return from a post-Olympic injury meant he wasn’t fully ready to go until the eighth round of the Apertura 2012. Enriquez has started every match since then, racking up five straight starts and over 500 minutes as probably Chivas’ best player, and rapidly closing in on his previous tournament highs in those departments set back in 2010.

The fact that Enriquez emerged with Chivas’ first team as an 18-year-old, but has seen only irregular time since, speaks to the rocky times the club has been through in recent years. But it also brings up the question of whether Guadalajara has been the ideal place for the formative years of such a prodigious talent.

There’s no question that Enriquez has seized a permanent starting role this season under coach John Van’t Schip. It’s no coincidence that the midfielder is also set for his first meaningful full team (aside from Copa America 2011) action with El Tri this week.

Now, el Chaton is quickly beginning to assert his dominance on the Liga MX in the same way he proved capable of doing on an international level in England.

As he grows into his 6-foot-2 frame and builds muscle mass, Enriquez will only become a more imposing force at the club level. If there’s one thing missing from his game, however, it’s the cool on the ball that the highest level box-to-box midfielders display. A little more consistency in passing would benefit as well.

Those things can be conditioned, but where is the place for that to happen?

It may not be Liga MX, where pressure on the ball is usually light in the midfield, and midfielders have plenty of time and space to make their decisions.

With El Tri at the international level, things will be different -- even if not right now against inferior foes Guyana and El Salvador. Those matches will serve as a light introduction for the likes of Chaton and Olympic teammate Hector Herrera to full international soccer, but both need much more.

Enriquez promises to be a key part of Mexico’s full squad for years to come. He is sure to seize this opportunity the way he has all others.

But players of his caliber, and at his age, need to begin to be tested consistently at the absolute highest level. For a mobile midfielder, Liga MX -- comparatively an offensive haven -- ultimately just doesn’t provide that test on a week-to-week basis.

If Enriquez were a pure attacking player, or even a defender, things would be different. But for the good of El Tri and one of its future superstars -- one with the potential to become among the greatest of all time to don a Mexican shirt -- the time to move to a league more tailored to developing his specific talents is very near.

Watch Enriquez dominate over the next few days with Mexico, and the next few months with Chivas. There can be no argument that he’s ready for an even bigger challenge.