Mexico won their second U17 World Cup in six years, defeating Uruguay 2-0 in front of over 100,000 supporters at the Estadio Azteca. They became the first host nation to win a U17 World Cup and gave Mexico its second trophy of the summer. Congratulations to the muchachos for a great tournament. They played seven games and won them all.
So what does it all mean? Is it time for a prolonged era of Mexican dominance in Concacaf? Who knows? It is obviously premature to pin the hopes and dreams of a futbol crazy nation on the wings of these angels. Mexico fans did that after 2005, and unfairly hit the saviors hard when they didn’t produce immediately.
What will happen with these guys? Some may have peaked, others have bright futures, and the ones who have little expectation of becoming more than utility players could blossom into a world-wide sensation.
In other words, expectations need to be tempered. I have been around college football long enough to know that it is a fool’s errand to think that all these prospects will make it big. Take a look at any top 100 list from 5 years ago. How many of those guys panned out?
What it does say, is that more Mexican teams are finally taking their academies seriously and are doing a better job of identifying and nurturing prospects. They have to. Teams in the top flight are tasked with fielding U17 and U20 squads, and all the players have to be Mexican. It means that more kids are getting more opportunities to play and grow. They have more raw material then they have had before.
Leading the way is Chivas. Jorge Vergara’s commitment to youth academy is apparent at all national team levels. The foundations of the Tri at all levels are littered with Chivas, and this U17 is no different. 4 chivas players were on the roster, including Carlos Fierro and Giovani Casillas. They currently have the strongest and most consistent youth program in the country.
The question is would Chivas fans trade that all in for a league title? Or are they content to be the 21st century version of their crosstown rivals, Atlas. The academicos have long been known as producers of top notch talent (and they provided 4 players on this U17 roster including the captain Antonio Briseño, who scored the first goal in the final), but haven’t won a title since the world was in black and white.
A surprising supply chain to the roster is Monterrey. For years, Rayados were happier buying jewels than mining for them, but they seem to have had a change of philosophy over the past few years. That is not to say they don’t throw down for high-priced players-- they still do plenty of that -- but they have balanced out the spending sprees with the local products. It’s working; two titles in three years are proof of that.
What about Pumas? One of the traditional national team suppliers was represented by only one player on the U17 roster. It’s good thing for Mexico in that other teams are stepping up, but a bad thing for Pumas fans who are used to seeing a lot more representation on youth national teams.
One team whose academy is starting to bear fruit is Pachuca. Team owner Jesus Martinez has made no secret of his desire to have one of the premier teams in Mexican futbol. The club has made an impressive investment in infrastructure, including the youth system. 3 players were flying Pachuca’s colors in the world cup, including Julio “la momia” Gomez, who was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s outstanding player.
Mexico’s summer of tournaments continues later this month in Colombia, where the U20 will face off against Argentina, England, and North Korea. Several of their players are getting some extra experience in Copa America, so one would have to think after chasing Alexi Sanchez, Luis Suarez, etc. all over Argentina, their group may not look so tough after all.
There will be inevitable comparisons to the squad that won in 2005. Six years ago, Mexico was a runaway freight train that demolished every team they played. This squad may not have had the impressive scorelines, but they showed they could collectively manage the games, the pressure of playing at home, and the exponentially increased media attention after each game. Not bad for a bunch of chavos.