Mexico’s recent reputation for excellence at youth national team level has been both hard-fought and richly deserved.
Club teams that didn’t traditionally invest in youth made sweeping changes in their academies, increasing competition for young talent within Mexico that snowballed into the 2011 Under-17 World Cup victory, a final place for the same age group in 2013 and an Under-20s program that has also competed into the latter stages of World Cups in recent years.
But getting those youngsters first team minutes in the Liga MX has proved problematic and bridging the gap between youth success and first team success is an ongoing concern for Mexican soccer at both club and national team level.
Nevertheless, there are a few young Mexicans that that have been impacting the first division consistently of late.
Here are five that are eligible to play in the U-20 league but feature regularly for the first team:
Armando Zamorano – Midfielder – Morelia. Age: 20
The attacking midfielder’s performance in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores playoff against Santa Fe was sublime. Zamorano had the nous to burst past the last defender and poise to finish to net his team’s second, but showed his decision-making skills are already refined for his team’s first when he slid in Hector Mancilla for a tap in. That shouldn’t perhaps be a surprise, as Zamorano debuted in the Liga MX in July 2011 and already has 69 first team appearances under his belt.
Combining technical ability and good vision with an insatiable work ethic, Zamorano plays with a maturity way beyond his years and should have a big future, despite not being one of the better known of Mexico’s young players.
Rodolfo Pizarro – Right wing back – Pachuca. Age: 19
The call-up to Miguel Herrera’s national team came as a major surprise considering Pizarro’s age and the fact he didn’t even make Mexico’s Under-20s squad for the World Cup last summer. But Pizarro has made huge strides over the last six months, nailing down a starting spot for Pahuca.
Pizarro doesn’t stop running, is capable of bursting past defenders and plays with the nonchalance of someone who has natural talent in buckets.
The World Cup in Brazil will probably come too soon for Pizarro, but Russia 2018 is a very realistic possibility.
Arturo Gonzalez – Central midfield – Atlas. Age: 19
The scorer of perhaps the best goal of the entire Under-20 World Cup last summer and a member of Mexico’s U-17 World Cup win in 2011, Gonzalez impressed in Atlas’ run to the Copa MX final last season and seems to have nailed down a spot in the first team this season under coach Tomas Boy.
Gonzalez possesses vision, athleticism and an eye for goal and can play either in central midfield – as he has recently for Atlas – or on the wing.
It is early days in Gonzalez’s first team career, but he been one of Atlas’ brightest sparks this season and promises to be the latest success story coming off the Guadalajara club’s conveyor belt.
Carlos Fierro – Right wing – Chivas – Age: 19
From Los Mochis, Sinaloa – a town that has produced a disproportionate number of sports men and women for its size – 19-year-old Fierro is already well-known in Mexico for his exploits during the U-17 World Cup in 2011, where he was named as the tournament’s third best player.
Now an inked-in starter for Chivas, Fierro is currently in an important period of his development with the added pressure of playing for a club which has been in a rut and whose supporters are looking to Fierro – the jewel of the youth system - to produce.
There remain doubts about whether right wing is his best position and more goals would be nice, but Fierro is still one to watch.
Jose Abella – Left back/Right back – Santos Laguna – Age: 20
Plucked from the U-20s by Santos coach Pedro Caixinha, the two-footed Abella is a regular fixture for Los Guerreros and will get a chance to shine this season in the Copa Libertadores.
As adept at complimenting the side going forward as he is solid in defense, Abella formed a partnership with Alonso Escoboza down Santos’ left that could be replicated at national team level some day.
Interestingly, the current holder of the left wing back spot for the national team is Abella’s second cousin, Miguel Layun.