Young Mexico call-ups serve to encourage, not slam, potential El Tri players

Pedro Pardo
While some have seen their inclusion as a slight against Elias Hernandez or others not in the squad, the Europe-based duo's call-ups make sense

They were presented as surprises, but the inclusion of relative unknowns Omar Govea and Uriel Antuna shouldn't have been a shock to any Mexico national team fan.

Both young and based in Europe, the players will be looking for their first senior caps after involvement with Mexico's youth system. They may not get them. It's not uncommon for managers to bring young players into national team camps not only to see how they play but also to show them what it will take to get on the level of the regulars who are carrying the team.

"It's been a dream since I was a kid to be with this caliber of players like Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano, all of them. I really only saw myself playing with them on the PlayStation, but now I'm really happy to be here," Antuna said Tuesday. "I've followed a lot of them on television, and I admire all of them, but especially Chicharito and Hirving."

Antuna Quote

While coach Juan Carlos Osorio has been criticized for leaving behind Liga MX-based players like Elias Hernandez or Erick Gutierrez, bringing in Govea and Antuna is hardly a slap in the face of those players, it just makes sense.

For one, Antuna currently is based just more than a three-and-a-half hour away from Mexico's first match in Brussels, working his way into the Groningen team after his move from Santos Laguna to the City Football Group family this summer. Govea is even closer, currently playing a key part for Royal Excel Mouscron side sitting mid-table in Belgium's top division, the Jupiler League.

For another, the smaller leagues these players are in makes it tougher to scout them and see exactly what they can provide in certain positions. Osorio knows Hernandez well from working with him during the Gold Cup and seeing many of his excellent matches with Leon this season in person. Prior to camp beginning this week, he's seen Govea only at a distance.

"I spoke with coach Juan Carlos Osorio. He welcomed me and asked me to do what I've been doing with my team, do it well and perform with confidence," the 21-year-old said. "The truth is I feel really good here because he's put his confidence in me and that makes things much more relaxed."

Omar Govea Selección Mexicana 08112017

There also can be a level of calm from the players in understanding why they've been called in. Pushing into the 23-man roster for Mexico's World Cup team or even getting a spot on the provisional squad is likely too tall a task. They may not be ready to play against Belgium on Friday or against Poland next week. But the players will see the way Mexico's top players train and have a better understanding of what they need to do with their clubs and with their personal regimens ahead of Qatar

"I came here to show myself, to prove I'm worthy of the selection," Govea said. "If he gives me minutes, I'm going to be happy with the chance, and if not I'm going to take this experience that is going to be worth a lot for me and I'll keep working to have more chances. This is something I didn't expect at this point and if I don't take part (in the matches) of course I'm going to be happy having been part of the team."

Uriel Antuna Mexico

Article continues below

The call-ups also are an incentive for other young Mexican players. It's no accident that Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Hirving Lozano have been two of Osorio's most consistent players during the coach's tenure at the helm. Lozano moved to Europe this summer but is still just 22 while Corona carved out a path in Europe at age 20.

That's earlier than most Mexican players make the jump, and no shortage of managers in CONCACAF have emphasized how much they'd like players to take a risk and trade in domestic riches for the potential of more competitive matches and more personal growth in Europe. Players like 17-year-old Atlas youth-prospect Jairo Torres, on trial this week with Villarreal get the message loud and clear: Find minutes in Europe and you'll be on the national team's radar. 

Bringing in these young players isn't meant to discourage anyone not part of this squad - quite the opposite. Osorio is making sure young players know their work is not in vain and challenging those coming behind them to follow in their steps. The Colombian may not be in charge of Mexico during the next cycle, but the team will be better for his choices as he looks to lay the groundwork for a successful 2022 and beyond while keeping his focus fixed on Russia 2018.