Tom Marshall: Could 2014 be Carlos Pena’s year?

The Leon midfielder has started the Clausura just as he finished the Apertura, and is a candidate to be Mexico's breakout star of 2014.
As if anyone needs reminding, 2014 is a World Cup year. And with just five months left until the big event gets underway, players all over the world are trying to find a burst of form to enter or consolidate themselves in one of the 32 national teams that will compete for football’s biggest prize.

For Mexico, the major boost so far this New Year has without doubt been Carlos Pena, who is surely drawing attention from European scouts after breaking into the national team in 2013.

On Saturday, Pena gave a complete demonstration of why he is currently in pole position to be Mexico’s breakout star of 2014.

It took the central midfielder just three minutes to open the scoring for Leon in its 3-1 win against Atlas.

Pena somehow dug out a chipped shot from outside the penalty area and sent it sailing over Federico Vilar and into the top corner of the net. It was a sublime piece of skill from a player who is improving all the time.

After the match, Pena told Fox Deportes that Leon coach Gustavo Matosas had pointed out that Vilar has a tendency to come off his line, but it is one thing to talk about it, and another to execute such a delicate effort in the early stages of the match.

Pena doubled his team’s lead in the 38th, breaking the offside trap to burst through on goal and leave Vilar red-faced with a nonchalant twist of the hips to go past him and tap into an empty net.

The double means Pena currently tops the Liga MX scoring charts with three goals in the first two games of the Clausura 2014. Blessed with a big frame and the stamina to get up and down the pitch, scoring goals was an area Pena had to improve and he has done so. Since November Pena has seven goals in nine games, including a couple that were vital in Leon winning the Liga MX last season.

The former Pachuca midfielder has played down talk of moving to Europe, saying it is something he’d like to do, but insisting he is concentrated on Leon and it doesn’t really make sense to move in this January transfer window.

La Fiera – partly owned by Carlos Slim – is hardly in need of cash and with the club in the Copa Libertadores – traditionally a shop window for Latin American talent – and the World Cup, Leon will be acutely aware that Pena’s value could go sky high if he continues this kind of irresistible form.

The player will also know that Miguel Herrera recently told ESPN that he’ll be taking Mexico-based players getting minutes to Brazil ahead of Europe-based ones warming the bench. Diego Reyes was outstanding at Club America and a national team starter, but it is difficult to see him making Herrera’s squad given he isn’t getting first division soccer at Porto.

After wave upon wave of disappointment regarding the development of some of the Olympic gold medal winners like Marco Fabian and Jorge Enriquez, Pena’s rise comes as welcome relief for Mexican soccer and particularly to El Tri coach Herrera.