GUADALAJARA – The average age of the Pachuca outfield players that start against Leon in the Liga MX final first leg on Thursday is very likely to be between 23 and 24 years.
Young regulars Rodolfo Pizarro (20 years), Hirving Lozano (18), Jurgen Damm (21), Diego de Buen (22) and Dieter Villalpando (22) will shoulder the responsibility of guiding Los Tuzos to their sixth first division title, having only broken into the first team over the last two seasons.
The club has pumped money and resources into its youth system to provide scholarships for players to “live, eat, sleep and train with us,” according to Pachuca’s sporting director Marco Garces, in an interview with Goal USA on Tuesday.
The investment – which includes the Universidad de Futbol and state of the art training installations - seems to be paying off.
So far this Clausura, both Pachuca’s Under-17s and Under-20s have finished the regular season in first position, while Estudiantes Tecos – nominally the club’s second-division feeder team – won the Ascenso MX title and only narrowly missed out on promotion on penalty kicks to Universidad de Guadalajara last Saturday.
But while that success is a barometer that things are being done correctly, the real test is helping players jump the often-elusive divide between the various lower tiers of the Mexican game into the first team.
Pachuca – which claims to be Mexico’s oldest club - has succeeded on that front, too.
For Garces, experienced Pachuca coach Enrique Meza has been a fundamental part of gluing the young, exciting side together.
“Enrique Meza has been a blessing to this system because nothing works unless you finish it right,” stated Garces. “You can recruit the right players, you can develop them the right way, but if the person in charge of finishing is not bold enough to take a risk with young players, the whole thing just crumbles.”
They are words plenty of other sides in Mexico and beyond could take heed of.
Mixed together with the experience of 34-year-old Walter Ayovi and 41-year-old Oscar Perez and the raw goal-scoring talent of Ecuadorian Enner Valencia, these are again exciting times for a club that had faded over recent years.
Here’s a look at Pachuca’s new generation:
Rodolfo Pizarro – Right back – Age: 20
An attacking right back who has previously been called into Mexico coach Miguel Herrera’s national team squad, Pizarro already has over 50 Liga MX games under his belt.
Garces: “He came in at Under-17 level and always played as a right midfielder, whereas he plays in the first division as a right back … We are very happy with his development … He is a nice boy, a good professional … It is important for us and Enrique Meza to have players that can play with the ball, that are proficient technically … A very exciting player.
Dieter Villalpando – Midfield – Age: 22
After bouncing around the lower divisions, Villalpando has established himself under Meza, debuting in the Liga MX in January and starting 15 games since then. It has been a meteoric rise over the last six months.
Garces: “When we arrived he was too old for the Under-20s, so we had to send him to (Linces de) Tlaxcala (Pachuca’s third division side) and he had a very good tournament there … He showed things that looked really interesting to us and that’s why he came back to the first division … Now he is giving us that patience and that kind of skill to create scoring chances.
Hirving Lozano – Left-winger – Age: 18
Debuts don’t come much better than netting a late winner for your team in the Estadio Azteca, but that is exactly what Lozano did against America in February.
Garces: There was a time when there was a bit of a doubt with him (over) whether he would develop or not, because he was too short and too skinny, but right now he’s a strong player. He’s pure muscle and he’s extremely quick and skillful. We’re really excited about him and his possibilities because he is the typical winger that we want to produce and have in the club.
Jurgen Damm – Right-winger – Age: 21
A player that has already been on trail at Manchester United and has a European Union passport, Damm has developed rapidly this season, both physically and in his decision-making. A constant threat to Liga MX defenses with his dribbling and raw pace.
Garces: (Damm) has all the (necessary) features: Quick, good in one v. one situations, a good crosser of the ball and exciting to watch. That’s the kind of player that we want here.
Marco Bueno – Striker – Age: 20
U-17 World Cup winner Bueno has previously trailed at Liverpool. He’s included here even though he has spent the last season at Estudiantes Tecos, because he still pertains to Pachuca and is a key product of its youth system.
Garces: (Bueno) had a great season. He scored a lot of goals, a lot of important goals. He’s a professional player and focused on his career and getting better. At the moment, he’s achieving it.