The 23-year-old Toluca winger has been bringing in the plaudits for both club and country, and a move to Europe may not be far off.San Jose, Calif.-born winger Isaac “Conejito” Brizuela has been feasting on praise recently.
“He is a crack,” said Toluca coach after Sunday’s 2-0 win against Chiapas, in which Brizuela scored his team’s opener with a memorable solo goal. “I don’t know what else he can show, you won’t see in Europe a player like him.”
Mexico national team manager Miguel Herrera has joined in, admitting after El Tri’s comprehensive victory over Korea Republic – in which Brizuela stood out - that the 23-year-old was turning heads and making a strong case for further involvement.
But for those who have watched Brizuela closely over the last 18 months for first Atlas and then Toluca, his form is no surprise.
Raised in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco - after returning from California aged two - Brizuela’s story has been one of steady improvement and seeing his natural pace and skill unite with improved decision-making. The result is a player that is one of the Liga MX’s most exciting and a strong contender for the national team at the World Cup.
Like any player – perhaps with the exception of Carlos Vela – Brizuela is desperate to feature in Brazil, but you don’t get the feeling he is getting carried away with the recent attention, putting his success down to sheer graft.
“It is the day to day hard work, looking after myself and being professional that has helped me get where I am,” he told Goal USA this week. “The playing time (for Atlas then Toluca) has also been fundamental, I feel more confident each game.”
But the Korea match was more important for Brizuela than it appeared on the surface, due to the differences in tactical system between Toluca’s 4-3-3 and Herrera’s 5-3-2 – which has no attacking winger position.
Brizuela adapted to a more central, attacking midfield role with aplomb, something that will both Herrera and the player would’ve been unsure of heading into the match.
“(Herrera) told me to play with the same freedom, to do the same things I’ve been doing with my club, obviously keeping to the position I was in,” explained Brizuela, who added that Herrera imparted confidence and told him to “enjoy what I was doing.”
After the game, Herrera asked Brizuela to return to Toluca and work with the same intensity and professionalism as he had been.
In terms of national team, it could have been very different for Brizuela, who still has family in Northern California.
There were mumblings of US national team interest before the Gold Cup – in which Brizuela became cap-tied to Mexico – when the winger stated for the first time publically that he was actually born in San Jose, not in Lagos de Moreno, as the Liga MX website still indicates.
Brizuela says “former teammates” contacted him and passed on his information to those in charge of the U.S. national team, but that he was “already in talks with Mexico (about potentially featuring) and obviously stayed here.”
The player does, however, have a date to return to San Jose on March 13, when Toluca plays the Earthquakes in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, a fixture Los Diablos Rojos aren’t taking lightly.
“In the Concachampions, we’ve gone about things in the same way as in the Mexican league,” said Brizuela. “We’re committed to both and we aren’t just going to focus on the league.”
If Brizuela can continue improving at the same rate, building his physical strength and perhaps adding a few more goals to his artillery, you get the feeling his future may be in Europe, a prospect with which the player is enthralled.
“It’s the dream of every player to play in a World Cup and to be in Europe,” he said, adding his favorite league is the English Premier League. “We’re working so that, if God wills, it happens.”