I had the pleasure a few years ago of producing Spanish-language Radio broadcasts for the Texas Longhorns. We always broadcast live from the site, so I had a great seat in the Rose Bowl when Texas defeated Southern Cal for the National Championship. It was a great moment for Longhorn fans everywhere, punctuated when Mack Brown lauded not only his team, but also praised high school football in the state of Texas.
I was thinking about that crisp January night in Pasadena today after Mexico defeated Japan, 3-1, to advance to the Men's Olympic final, particularly how Mack felt about Texas High School Football. The Longhorns would not have lifted the crystal football if it wasn't for Texas' high school programs (let's face it - Oklahoma has been using Texas High School football to build champions for years, but we'll talk about that some other time) just like Mexico could not have made the final without help from the local clubs.
Then I heard Mexico's coach, Luis Fernando "Flaco" Tena, praise the Liga MX for producing this moment. "This is a testament to the teams that have made the commitment to produce these kinds of players." He added, "all we do is pick the best ones for us."
Mexico's Olympic side was composed of 18 players, 17 of which were reared in Mexico's youth systems. The other joined Barcelona's academy when he was 11 years old. Players like Oribe Peralta, who bounced around the league for a while before blossoming a little later than most in the Sonoran Desert. Few Mexican strikers have scored bigger goals in bigger games than Peralta over the past year, and he did it again today at Wembley to put Mexico in front.
Then there is Monterrey's Hiram Mier, a defender that has anchored Rayados' defense for the better part of the past two years, winning both league and continental titles. He is only 22. Mier's defense partner, Diego Reyes is a undisputed starter at Club América. Over the past year, he has played in league games, the U20 World Cup, and Copa Libertadores matches- and he is still a teenager. We talked at length when last we spoke about Jorge Enríquez, who had another standout game in his breakout tournament. He hand his Chivas teammates Carlos Ponce and Marco Fabian fave been first team Chivas for a while.
I am not gonna lie. I drew extra satisfaction from Mexico's last goal today, scored by a Pumas product, Javier Cortés. As much as I disliked it at the time, then Pumas coach, Tuca Ferretti played his kids almost exclusively in the Concachampions, and it's where we saw glimpses of what we saw what Cortés could do. The Pumas midfielder had his coming out party in the 2011 Clausura, with clinching goals in both the semi-finals and the finals. He may have had a down year last season, but the talent was always there, and it bubbled up again at Wembley as he fought off a Japanese defender to ice the game with the third goal.
It's all we ask for. Give the kids a chance - some clubs have, and the kids are responding. They responded today with authority after going down a goal early. In case you haven't noticed, Mexico's youth system has started to haul in some hardware. It is one of the reasons why I am so excited about the new Copa MX. I don't really care who wins, but youngsters who may not otherwise see the field are going to play... and play a lot. 2nd division players who may not have had a clear path to a top flight career will get noticed. The better the local player, the better the league.
The better the national team.
I have always maintained that if the button pushers in Mexican soccer expended more energy focusing on the sporting aspect of their business as opposed to the economic one, the economic side of things would be much, much easier to maintain. Mexico still has a long way to go, there are still many, many things that can be better about the administration of the sport as a whole. There is no denying, however, that they are moving in the right direction - as evidenced by the impressive amount of hardware they have been collecting over the past few years.
Now they can add an Olympic medal to the haul.