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Thomas Harrison brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-21 players to watch out for in the Liga MX this season.
Hirving “Chucky” Lozano // Pachuca // 21// Left-winger:
Lozano, who burst onto the scene in 2014 when scoring a late winner at Estadio Azteca on his Pachuca debut, has had an extremely busy summer, as he was part of Mexico’s squad for both the Copa América and the Olympics. Heavily linked with a move to Manchester United a few weeks ago, the rumours have recently gone quiet and he may yet play another season in Liga MX with Pachuca.
Quick and tricky, Lozano operates as an inside forward from the left, and is able to unleash powerful right-footed shots when cutting inside. Chucky also causes problems with his intelligent off-the-ball movement, but is guilty of playing with his head down at times, leading to the winger becoming too selfish.
Whether in Liga MX with Pachuca or in Europe this season, Lozano has some work to do to restore his reputation as Mexico’s brightest young hope. Many Mexico fans have turned on the youngster following below-par displays in Rio as defending champions Mexico crashed out in the group stage. Watching how he responds to criticism should be fascinating.
Erick Gutiérrez // Pachuca // 21 // Central-midfielder
Erick Gutiérrez has been a key part of the Pachuca side for the past two years, and helped his team win the Liga MX Clausura (2nd half of the season) title last season. “Guti” was also part of Mexico’s Rio Olympic squad, where he scored a quite remarkable four goals against Fiji.
Left-footed, Gutiérrez is a classy midfielder who seems to have the potential to play in Europe in the near future. Good at reading the game, capable of picking out and completing key passes, and able to make dribbling runs from deep, Gutiérrez is full of creativity.
Recently we’ve seen Guti grow into leadership roles, captaining the Mexico U-20 side on multiple occasions as well as his club, Pachuca, a few times. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taking the full Mexico armband in future years.
Liga MX is generally unpredictable and creating long-term success is difficult, but Gutiérrez will be hoping he can help his side retain the Mexican league title this season, and a move to Europe can’t be too far off, although his price tag may be high.
Mateus Goncalves // Pachuca // 21 // Winger
I’ve only seen Mateus play in a couple of games, but he’s already become one of my favourite players to watch. Part of the Sao Paolo and Palmeiras youth ranks originally, he first turned up in Mexico with second division side Coras de Tepic, and he scored an impressive ten goals in Ascenso MX last season.
From what I’ve seen so far, Mateus appears to be one of the most skilful players around, and seeing the Brazilian attempt back-hell flicks over his head in Pachuca’s CONCACAF Champions League game against Olimpia was a joy to watch.
However, what has impressed me most about Mateus is his speed when dribbling. The 21-year-old is ridiculously quick with the ball at is feet, and is capable of blowing past defenders. There appears to be an end product there as well, as a quality finish in the game against Olimpia proved.
There’s huge competition for places in the Pachuca squad right now, and if none of their superb young Mexicans move to Europe Mateus may struggle to make the starting Xl. But whether it’s from the bench or in the starting line-up, Mateus should bring plenty of joy to Liga MX fans this season.
César Montes // Monterrey // 19 // Central-defender
Eyebrows were raised when the unheard of Montes became a regular starter for Monterrey last season, and the central-defender has proven himself as an extremely talented footballer since, helping Los Rayados to the Liga MX final last season.
Selected in the Liga MX best XI for the 2016 Clausura, at 6’4” tall Montes is a towering defender. This height doesn’t affect his quality in possession though, with Montes’ passing one of his most impressive attributes, particularly long passing. This ability should impress European scouts, with passing an increasingly important part of game for central-defenders.
Along with his passing, I’ve also been impressed with Montes’ timing when making challenges. César is also fairly good at reading the game, particularly for a teenager, although there is room for improvement in this department.
Montes needs to bounce back from Mexico’s disappointing group stage exit from the Olympics, but should have a good season with Monterrey, who will be battling for domestic and continental trophies.
Orbelín Pineda // Chivas // 20 // Central-midfielder
After developing with Querétaro, Orbelín Pineda made the switch to Mexican giants Chivas last winter, and despite huge amounts of pressure on the young Mexican, he’s thrived.
Standing 5’6” tall, Orbelín can play as both a deep-lying and advanced-playmaker, and normally plays as part of the double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1. Extremely quick, both in the legs and in the mind, Pineda can split defences open with incisive passes as well as the occasional dribbling run. What impresses me most about Orbelín though is how he’s dealt with the pressure of being a key player for Chivas, who are one of Mexico’s big two sides and have an enormous fan base.
As ever with Chivas, it hasn’t been a smooth start to the season, but the squad is strong enough to challenge in the play-offs. Pineda’s performances from central-midfield will likely be key to any title push.
Javier Eduardo “Chofis” López // Chivas // 21// Winger/Attacking-midfielder
López has had to endure a stop-start career so far, as injuries have prevented him from putting together a long run of matches. He’s been injury free for a few months now though, and this season could be the one that he really makes his breakthrough.
Nicknamed “La Chofis” due to his resemblance of an ex-team mates’ ex-girlfriend, López thrilled and excited Chivas and Mexico fans last season, in March, after scoring a stunning brace against Liga MX leaders Monterrey.
Remarkably quick with the ball at his feet, superb at performing body swerves, with a decent end product and good eye for a pass too, Chofis is great fun to watch, and has huge potential if he can remain fit and level-headed.
Chofis has work to do to nail down a starting place at Chivas, particularly as manager Matías Almeyda wants to somewhat shield López from the limelight and hype that has been built around him, but this could be the season that he really shows why he could be a future Mexico star.
Alfonso “Ponchito” González // Monterrey // 21 // Left-winger/Attacking-midfielder
A product of the Atlas youth academy, Ponchito has long been viewed as one of Mexico’s top young players, but has failed to develop his game in recent years. This lack of development has perhaps been due to González playing with Atlas, one of the worst performing and worst organised sides in Mexico over the last couple of seasons. His summer move to Monterrey may re-ignite Ponchito’s stuttering career.
An attacking-midfielder, capable of playing from the left and in a “number ten” role, González possesses a good eye for a pass, and is able to beat defenders on occasion with his dribbling ability. Ponchito can chip in with a few goals as well, scoring 14 in 90 Liga MX games in his career thus far.
Nailing down a starting spot for one of the best teams in Mexico, Monterrey, will be a challenge, but playing alongside better quality and under a successful manager in “Turco” Mohamed should help González to develop. I’ve never been fully convinced by him, but all that could change this season.
Gael Sandoval // Santos Laguna // 20 // Right-winger/Right-back
After a good season on loan in the Mexican second division with FC Juárez, who just missed out on promotion, Gael Sandoval has been given an opportunity to prove his worth for Santos Laguna, starting three of their four Liga MX games so far.
Naturally a right-winger but able to play at right-back, as he’s done at times this season, Sandoval is a tricky player, capable of beating defenders with his dribbling ability. There are many good dribblers in Mexico, and I’m yet to be convinced that there’s a lot more to Sandoval’s game, but the faith Luis Zubeldía has placed in him this season suggest there’s something about him. I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Erick Aguirre // Pachuca // 19 // Right-back/Central-midfielder
Pachuca’s signing of Erick Aguirre, from Monarcas Morelia, was one of the most fascinating of the summer. Pachuca have become known for having one of the best youth academies in Mexico, and have brought through many academy products in recent years. The signing of Aguirre, one of Mexico’s best teenagers, represented a slight shift in Pachuca’s philosophy, showing they are now looking to sign as well as develop some of the best young Mexicans.
With a well-rounded skill set, Aguirre often plays as a right-back but can also operate from central-midfield. There will be competition for both positions at Pachuca, but Aguirre is capable of nailing down a starting spot, and with Los Tuzos playing in the CONCACAF Champions League this season he should receive a fair amount of playing time.
Considering Pachuca’s recent track record of developing young players, some of whom have featured on this list, Aguirre appears to be at the perfect club to reach his potential.
Alexis Vega // Toluca // 18 // Striker/Winger
Alexis Vega burst onto the scene towards the latter part of last season, as injury struck Toluca’s star striker Fernando Uribe, and he stepped up to the plate well, producing impressive performances in both Liga MX and the Copa Libertadores.
Good physically and technically, Vega is a real livewire in the final third, causing problems for opposition defences with his hard-work and movement on and off the ball. His intelligence, vision and final product needs work, but there’s real potential if he’s given playing time.
Playing time could be an issue considering Los Diablos Rojos have more experienced and proven options in attack, but Vega has started one league game so far this season. With Mexico currently lacking quality young strikers, many are hopeful that Vega could one day replace the likes of Javier Hernández and Oribe Peralta.
Read all our Talent Radar 2016-17 Young Players to Watch across all leagues, here.