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Talent Radar

Talent Radar: Liga MX’s 10 Young Players to Watch in 2018-19

Thomas Harrison writes about the 10 players to watch out for in the Liga MX for this coming season.

Mexico took an ageing squad to Russia, and following the last-16 defeat to Brazil, fans of El Tri turned their attention to Qatar 2022. In this regard, there’s reason to be optimistic, with plenty of young talent coming through at clubs like Pachuca, Santos, América, Atlas and Chivas.

Alongside the young Mexicans, there’s a crop of exciting youngsters that have joined Liga MX from South America, and could make the step-up to Europe in the future.

With the 2018-19 Liga MX season getting into full swing, having kicked-off in July, here are ten young prospects to keep an eye on.

Diego Lainez // 18 // América

With a need for rejuvenation, one name stood-out as being as reason for hope in Mexico’s quest to finally make a “quinto partido” (fifth game) at the next World Cup. That name is Diego Lainez.

After debuting for Mexican giants Club América at the age of just 16, Lainez has quickly developed a reputation as Mexico’s most exciting teenager. Now 18, Lainez, a winger who can also operate as a “number ten”, is renowned for his outstanding balance, trickery and change of pace when running with the ball, and the stats back up this belief. Diego ended the 2017-18 with a dribble success rate of above 65%, one of the highest figures for an attacking player in Liga MX.

Last season Mexico fans were frustrated by Lainez’s lack of game time, but he made an impression towards the latter stages, and went on to have an outstanding summer, winning the best player award at the 2018 Toulon Tournament. Lainez was rewarded with a start in América’s recent game against Pachuca, where he scored his first (and quickly, second) Liga MX goal. This should keep Diego in the first-team picture, and watching his progress will be one of the most fascinating aspects of this Liga MX season.

Víctor Dávila // 20 // Necaxa

Talented young players from outside of Mexico often go under-the-radar in Liga MX, especially if they play for a less traditional side like Necaxa. Having nailed-down his position as a key player for Necaxa since joining from Huachipato in his native Chile, Víctor Dávila certainly deserves to be considered as one of the most exciting youngsters in Mexico right now.

Normally a “number ten”, Dávila can also drift in from the right and has even played as an out-and-out striker at times. This season has begun in spectacular fashion as Víctor’s bagged three goals and two assists in his four Liga MX matches thus far. Skilful, well-balanced, excellent at turning away from pressure, and capable of picking up dangerous positions, Dávila’s vision is his most impressive attribute. Victor is superb at picking out reverse passes which can split defences and play in teammates running in-behind the opposing back-line. As Chile look to re-build following their failure to make the 2018 World Cup, Dávila, who’s been capped at U20 level, could become part of the process. 

Roberto Alvarado // 19 // Cruz Azul

Roberto Alvarado is the youngest player to ever appear in an Ascenso MX (Mexico’s second tier) match, having debuted at the tender age of just 15 years and 21 days. Given this, it took a surprisingly long time for Mexican fans and media to sit up and take notice of the young winger. Alvarado is now regarded as one of the most promising young Mexicans, as he enjoys an extraordinary 2018.

With six assists, Roberto set up the third highest number of goals in the 2018 Clausura (closing stage) when at Necaxa, and has continued his excellent form after moving to Cruz Azul. La Máquina is one of the most historic clubs in Mexico, but have struggled in recent years. Technically proficient with both feet, the left-footed winger can operate comfortably on both flanks, can beat defenders with pace or trickery, is excellent at pulling away from defenders to make himself available for a pass, and has a remarkable ability to accurately place floated crosses and through balls. If he continues to perform at the level seen throughout 2018, a move to Europe will soon be on the cards. 

Edson Álvarez // 20 // América

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was Mexico’s young player to watch in Russia, but their youngest player at the tournament was actually Edson Álvarez. Edson went on to appear in all of Mexico’s four matches, starting at right-back against Korea, Sweden and Brazil. Álvarez didn’t particularly impress during his World Cup matches, but his amount of game time speaks volumes of the rapid rise to prominence since debuting for América in October 2016.

A versatile defensive player, Edson has been used at right-back and holding midfield, but is best suited to a centre-back role. Comfortable in possession, rather physically imposing and able to bring the ball out from the back, his dribble completion rate was in excess of 73% last season, Álvarez possesses the attributes to suit a centre-back role in the modern game. After starting the first game of the season on the bench for América, Edson has since begun three matches in a row at centre-back, and will hope to continue starting in that role, and continue to make Mexico squads. 

Jonathan González // 19 // Monterrey

One of the most intriguing stories to come out of Liga MX last season was the case of Jonathan González. Born in California to Mexican parents, González was subject to a fight between the US and Mexican national teams last season, a fight that should become more and more common in the coming years, due to the large Mexican diaspora in the US.

As is so often the case when the North American giants battle over supporters with dual-citizenship, it was Mexico that won. González had represented the US at U17, U18 and U20 level, but the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol managed to persuade Jonathan to make the one-time switch on the 24th January 2018.

This battle began as González made a rapid impression on Liga MX. After making his debut in Monterrey’s opening match of 2017-18, Jonathan became a mainstay and was named in the 2017 Apertura (opening stage) best Xl. A technically proficient midfielder, who’s displayed a decent eye for a pass, Jonathan usually plays in a “number six” role as a deep-lying playmaker in a three-man midfield. However, he can use his talents in a more advanced midfield role, or as part of a double-pivot in a two-man midfield. González didn’t receive the World Cup call-up that looked at possibility for a while, but he has the potential to be an important first-team player in Qatar. 

Julián Quinones // 21 // Tigres

Colombia have produced a host of quality strikers in recent years, and Quinones could be the next one to make it to Europe. Julián, whose brother is currently loaned out from Tigres at Toluca, first made his name in the Liga MX sub-20 league, when he top scored in the 2015 Apertura. A loan to the second tier of Mexican football followed in 2016, before Quinones was sent to newly promoted Liga MX side Lobos BUAP for 2017-18.

It was at Lobos that Quinones proved that he could translate his youth promise into senior goals. Only six players bettered Julián’s tally of 17 league goals across 2017-18, with these goals coming for a Lobos side that would have been relegated had the winners of Ascenso MX (Mexico’s second tier) been eligible for promotion. Considering his height of 1.77m/5’10”, Quinones particularly impressed aerially, with six of his 17 goals coming from headers.

Having proven his ability to score consistently in Liga MX, Quinones has returned from his loan spell and is part of the Tigres squad for the 2018 Apertura. Competition is fierce, with André-Pierre Gignac, Eduardo Vargas and Enner Valencia all to choose from, and Tigres coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti famously places little faith in young players. However, if proven scorer Quinones gets his chance, he may be difficult to displace.

Alexis Vega // 20 // Toluca

A career than began with so much promise came to an abrupt halt on the 15th November 2016. Alexis Vega suffered the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament injury, and it was 376 days until the young forward scored his next Liga MX goal. Breaking back into the Toluca starting line-up proved difficult for Vega, who started just seven league matches in 2017-18, but following the departure of Colombian forward Fernando Uribe, Alexis has now begun all four of Toluca’s league matches this campaign.

Able to operate as the main striker, a second striker or an inside-forward, Vega has played off or to the side of Alexis Canelo/Enrique Triverio so far this season, in an attacking midfield trio. Within this trio, head coach Hernán Cristante gives his attackers a huge amount of positional freedom, even for Liga MX standards, and the lively Vega is seen popping up across the pitch, usually in the half spaces. Vega can struggle when taking on opponents, but positions himself well in and around the box and regularly threatens opposing keepers. In Mexico’s search for a top young striker, Vega is arguably leading the way right now. 

Sebastián Ferreira // 20 // Morelia

Many Liga MX clubs have suffered key departures during the summer window, but none will be felt more than Raúl Ruidíaz’s move from Monarcas Morelia to Seattle Sounders. Ruidíaz scored 40 times in his two years for Morelia, including a dramatic injury time winner in 2017 that saved La Monarquía from relegation.

Morelia brought in two players in an attempt to replace Ruidiáz’s goals and on-field inspiration. Irven Ávila, who impressed for Lobos BUAP in Mexico, but not as a “number nine”, is one, with 20-year-old Paraguayan forward Sebastián Ferreira the other. Ferreira, who will shoot at almost any opportunity, joins after a phenomenal start to 2018, having scored 13 times in just 17 starts for Independiente in Paraguay’s top flight. The step-up to Liga MX is significant, and Ferreira has begun the season on the bench, but a 91st minute goal on his debut against Veracruz would have gone some way to persuading coach Roberto Hernández that he’s worthy of more game time.

Érick Aguirre // 21 // Pachuca

Diego Alonso, who has since moved on to Monterrey, had a strange, near-obsession, during his time as head coach of Pachuca. Alonso loved to turn young talented Mexican defensive players into attacking players. First, Rodolfo Pizarro was transformed from a right-back into a creative “number ten”, then, after Pizarro’s departure to Chivas, Víctor Guzmán was moved forward from a defensive midfield role into the vacant “number ten” position.

Alonso’s last project concerned Érick Aguirre, a right-back/defensive midfielder (sound familiar?), who Diego fancied as a left-winger, following Hirving Lozano’s move to PSV. As with the cases of Pizarro and Guzmán, Aguirre looked completely uncomfortable and unsuited to this role to begin with, but has since grown into the new position.

Aguirre is a long way off the finished article as a left winger. His cross completion was of 12.2% from last season is awful, nine fouls won in 29 games doesn’t impress, and neither does his tally of just two goals and four assists. However, Érick did complete over 60% of his dribble attempts in 2017-18, which is a very high rate for a Liga MX winger, and has a low rate of dispossessions. Many are still to be convinced that Aguirre should be seen as a winger long-term, but Alonso’s experiments have worked extremely well so far. Seeing how Érick develops in the role over this season will make for interesting viewing.

José Hernández // 21 // Atlas

José Hernández is a rarity in Liga MX, a starting keeper under the age of 22. Playing for Atlas, a team with a great commitment to developing future national team players, which will continue as Rafa Márquez takes over as sporting director, Hernández has cemented his place as first-choice keeper, starting all four league games so far this season.

With Mexico’s three World Cup keepers aged 33, 35 and 37, there’s need for young blood in goal. Along with 24-year-old Tijuana keeper Gibrán Lajud, Hernández is seen as a potential future national team starter. It’s very early in his professional career, and knowledge of José is still somewhat limited, but he has appeared very composed for an inexperienced keeper thus far, and is quick to get down to low shots. Considering the prevalence of short-term thinking in Mexico, due to the short seasons and lack of time for coaches, the faith placed in Hernández speaks volumes.

Read all our Talent Radar articles here.

Thomas Harrison

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