When he names his roster for a February friendly against Iceland, Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio will call upon five players he does not want to have at his disposal.
Oh, sure, the team will be better with pacy winger Jurgen Damm, attacking dynamo Hirving Lozano, savvy center back Nestor Araujo and two-way star Orbelin Pineda in it. But on this non-FIFA date, Osorio would rather be looking to find domestic-based players who can fill the final roster spots on his team while the rest of his squad plays abroad.
"In Liga MX, we have four or five players with all the qualities to play in Europe, among them Jurgen, Hirving, Nestor and others," Osorio said at a news conference promoting the upcoming friendly in Las Vegas. "Hopefully we can help so that in the next two or three years more Mexican players emigrate and this will make it so we might have a much stronger national team."
The strange reality, though, is that while those players do have the skill to move on from Liga MX, that same quality that makes them stars in the domestic league may be exactly what's holding them back from taking the step up to an even bigger competition.
Mexican owners keep their young players around as assets both on the field and off, where having a recognizable young Mexican star can be incredibly helpful in getting fans into the stadium.
For an example, look no further than Lozano, who scored a hat trick in a stirring opening to the year while helping Pachuca to a 4-2 victory over Leon on Saturday. Ajax reportedly has a bid in for Lozano that most outlets have put in the neighborhood of $10 million-$12 million. The Tuzos are said to be holding out for $20 million. Pachuca's sporting director Marco Garces said those rumors aren't entirely accurate and noted that Lozano may be set for the exit door.
"We've always been a selling club," he told ESPN. "We can't resist the big signings from Europe or the amount the teams offer us. We hope to stand by him until a suitable offer arrives and we might have the economic possibilities to get another player."
There's a reason the transfer window gets its silly season moniker, but similar cases happen too often for this to be dismissed. While teams in other leagues are desperate to sell, many of Mexico's wealthy owners have no urgency to reap a monetary reward from the player they've developed.
And as Jurgen Klinsmann learned in his unsuccessful quest to keep American players in Europe rather than coming home to enjoy living near family and getting paid well to do it, while a national team manager's words hold some weight, it's money that does the talking. Osorio himself faced a similar situation with LA Galaxy designated player Giovani dos Santos and could soon be doing the same with Gio's brother Jonathan. Do you call these players up despite the fact they're not playing in the world's best leagues? If they're still among the 23 players giving you the best chance to win, you must.
The quality of the game in North America seems to be on the rise in both leagues as imports push domestic players to raise their game to win starting jobs. But while young players in the rest of CONCACAF dart at the first opportunity to go abroad, Mexicans stick around — often longer than they should. Lozano, Damm or Araujo could chat with El Tri teammate Jesus "Tecatito" Corona about the benefits of leaving sooner rather than later. At age 20, the winger left Monterrey for Twente. It wasn't easy at first, but Corona fought for a spot and earned a move to Porto where he's played in the UEFA Champions League. With the national team, he's become one of the players Osorio relies on most often.
The Mexico coach hinted he'd prefer his players take the route Corona has taken, rather than be on the Oribe Peralta plan and stay in Mexico his whole career despite the potential to play elsewhere.
"Currently, we have 14 players there. We want to use these games to promote and help others to be able to go to Europe," Osorio said. "The Mexican player is as good and professional as any other on the planet. Up until now, the experience has been extraordinary. They've got great work ethic and get better with the repetition of exercises and concepts."
But with economic power still in North America — currently in Mexico and rapidly shifting to MLS — Osorio knows he'll have to make the best side he can with a group that still will have plenty of players seeing action week in, week out in leagues that are good but not great in the grand scheme of things.