As the end of the season beckons across Europe, it is time for us at Outside of the Boot to recognize the accomplishments of tomorrow’s stars under our Talent Radar banner, with the U-22 Team of the Season across each individual top leagues being featured for the fourth consecutive year. This feature looks at the best of the Liga MX.
[Eligibility: As of 1st June 2016 – 21 years old and below for outfield players // 22 years old and below for goalkeepers]
Gibran Lajud // Tijuana // 23 // Goalkeeper: After years of showing promise in cup matches, Gibran Lajud stepped up into a starting role during the Clausura (second half of the season). This promotion came after the retirement of Liga MX legend Federico Vilar after the Apertura (first half of the season).
For parts of the regular season (pre-play-offs), Lajud looked suspect and was starting to be questioned on whether or not he was ready to be a Liga MX regular. Save percentages can be misleading, but Gibran’s percentage of 72.9% ranked him towards the lower end of the Clausura standings for regularly starting goalies.
However, Lajud pulled out some much more impressive displays during the play-offs, which Tijuana exited at the semi-final stage, despite topping the regular standings. Time will tell if these performances have done enough for Lajud to nail down a 2017/18 starting spot.
Jorge Sánchez // Santos Laguna // 19 // Right-back: Jorge Sánchez has covered more distance than any other player in Liga MX during the Clausura.
The right-back has been given an opportunity since José Manuel de la Torre took charge of Santos, and has absolutely thrived. Sánchez gets up and down the right flank to great effect, displaying reliability in defence and a wide outlet when pushing forward.
Sánchez is one of four young Santos players to breakthrough during 2016/17, proving that the club’s investment in facilities and youth development is starting to pay off.
César Montes // Monterrey // 20 // Centre-back: César Montes proved that last year’s breakthrough campaign was no fluke, cementing himself as one of Liga MX’s best centre-backs.
Montes consistently outperformed his more experienced defensive teammates like José María Basanta, Nicolás Sánchez and Iván Píris, but bizarrely a Mexico call-up continues to elude him. Considering César’s height, calmness and quality in possession, he seems the sort of defender that Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio would favour.
With Mexico sending a reserve side to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, due to their appearance in the Confederations Cup, Montes could finally make his Mexico debut this summer.
— LIGA BBVA MX (@LigaBBVAMX) April 23, 2017
Edson Álvarez // América // 19 // Centre-back: Legendary coach Ricardo La Volpe didn’t have the most successful time with Club América, losing in the Apertura final to Tigres before failing to make the Clausura play-offs. The former Mexico coach was also criticised for a dull, pragmatic brand of football, which didn’t have the style of previous La Volpe teams. However, he left a legacy.
La Volpe has long been praised for showing faith in youngsters, and he brought through two during his spell at Estadio Azteca. 16-year-old Diego Lainez caught the eye of many towards the end of the season, but Edson Álvarez was the main breakout star.
Álvarez is versatile, superbly comfortable on the ball, has displayed an understanding of la pausa and appears a good ball-winner. 87% pass accuracy, 2.1 interceptions per game, 2.2 tackles per game, Edson has some impressive stats this season.
A first Mexico cap was received during the domestic players friendly against Iceland, and Álvarez is now one of the key men for El Tri at the U20 World Cup.
Defensive-midfield, centre-back, right wing-back. A lot is being asked of Edson Álvarez. #ligamxeng
— Tom Harrison (@tomh_36) March 19, 2017
Osvaldo Rodríguez // León // 20 // Left-back: During the regular stage of the Clausura, no player made more sprints than Osvaldo Rodríguez.
The left-back was first seen in the Liga MX during the 2015 Apertura, with Pachuca. Playing alongside the error-strewn Hugo Rodríguez and aged Aquivaldo Mosquera was an extremely difficult start to Osvaldo’s Liga MX career, and he looked far from good enough.
Over a year later, Rodríguez has been given another chance, after moving on loan to Pachuca’s sister club, León. Osvaldo started all 17 games during León’s Clausura campaign, and looked significantly more solid than before, making 3.4 tackles per game.
Ulises Rivas // Santos Laguna // 21 // Defensive midfield: Another of Santos’ young stars. When the highly experienced Jesús Molina moved from Santos to Monterrey during the winter transfer window, it appeared to leave a hole in the defensive midfield position. Ulises Rivas had shown promise, and was working his way into the first team, but few expected him to step up into Molina’s place as well as he has done.
Rivas’ energy (second highest distance covered) and ball recovering abilities (2 interceptions and 1.7 tackles per game) have been on show throughout the season. If he can improve in possession, Ulises could become a very good holding midfielder, although it will be difficult to maintain covering such large distances per game.
Erick Gutiérrez // Pachuca // 21 // Central midfield: It seems almost odd to still consider Gutiérrez as a young player, he’s been one of Liga MX’s best players for such a long time.
Always classy on the ball and capable of picking out key passes, “Guty” has created eight big chances this season, whilst maintaining an 88% pass completion rate. Combining pass accuracy whilst playing risky balls in order to create opportunities isn’t easy, and Gutiérrez does it better than anyone else in Liga MX.
Guty is also a great dribbler, and has developed his defensive capabilities as he’s matured. It remains a mystery why Erick has only made a single Mexico cap, and why there aren’t more rumours of a move to Europe.
Orbelín Pineda // Chivas // 21 // Central midfield: The beating heart of one of Mexico’s biggest sides, Orbelín Pineda has always been mature beyond his years.
Playing as a “number eight” for Chivas, Orbelín dictates their play, using his high technical ability and footballing intelligence to great effect.
Pineda made his first Mexico appearance in 2016, and has gone on to play for El Tri four more times. Considering his quality, maturity, and ability to produce under pressure, Orbelín could be a fixture in the Mexico national team for many years to come.
Javier “Chofis” López // Chivas // 22 // Right-wing: Chofis López was statistically the most efficient creator in Liga MX across the 2016/17 campaign, when a study was done with a week of the regular season remaining. At that time, Chofis had completed a key pass (according to sofascore) once for every 12.47 attempted passes.
Chofis is the best creator this season 😲
— Fut Mex Nation (@FutMexNation) May 4, 2017
López is often put down for being too inconsistent, probably a result of the large number of risks that he takes, but others argue that his teammates aren’t effective enough at finishing the opportunities that he creates. Making just three assists from 56 key passes and eight big chances created (both according to sofascore) backs up that argument.
There’s also the question of Chofis’ best position. On the right-wing, López is able to take on full-backs, and regularly cut inside, but his vision of pass may better utilised in a central attacking midfield role.
What cannot be denied though is that Chofis is one of the most entertaining young Mexican players to watch right now. He just needs to balance his risk taking.
Clifford Aboagye // Atlas // 22 // Attacking midfield: Not since André-Pierre Gignac joined Tigres has a Liga MX signing raised quite so many eyebrows. Very few Africans have played in Liga MX, and not many winners of the bronze ball at an U-20 World Cup make it to Mexico at such a young age, if ever.
Aboagye took a few weeks to settle into the Atlas side, and didn’t show his full talents when played out wide, but thrived in a central role. Clifford was the creative spark in an Atlas team that exceeded expectations this Clausura, and had the Ghanaian been fully fit for liguilla, they may have even gone further than the quarter-finals.
Clifford is only on loan at Atlas from Granada, so his future is up in the air. It would be a pleasure to see Aboagye stay in Liga MX for longer, but he has the talent and reputation to attract other suitors
Hirving “Chucky” Lozano // Pachuca // 21 // Left-wing: Ten goals in 29 Liga MX games is a rather impressive tally for Mexico’s best known youngster, but it was in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) where Chucky enjoyed most success this season.
Lozano scored eight in eight, including two massive strikes late on in the second leg of the semi-final against FC Dallas. Chucky looked to have wrapped up the tie with his 80th minute goal, but after Dallas levelled up the aggregate result six minutes later, Pachuca had to score again. Lozano stepped up once more, with a 92nd minute winner.
— Concacaf (@Concacaf) April 5, 2017
Los Tuzos went on to lift the CCL after beating Tigres in the final, Chucky’s second major trophy with Pachuca, and one that offers a dilemma. Whilst the inside-forward, who loves to cut in from the left and shoot with his right, is attracting multiple European sides, Chucky may want to stay to play in the Club World Cup.
- Talent Radar: Liga MX’s 10 Young Players to Watch in 2018-19 - August 16, 2018
- Liga MX U-22 Young Players’ Team of the Season 2016-17: Talent Radar - May 31, 2017
- Football as an Art Form: Sergio Bueno’s Chiapas - March 2, 2017