Mexican soccer has been riding quite a wave over the past couple years, and it goes without saying that the upcoming year is being met with elevated expectations.
The Mexican National Team will be playing in three tournaments: The Hex, the Confed Cup, and the Gold Cup. The U-level sides will be vying for spots in their respective World Cups, and half a dozen local clubs will be competing in Continental competitions: Tigres, Santos, and Monterrey are in the quarterfinals of the Concachampions - the latter of which will be looking to win their third in a row. Toluca joins Xolos and León in the upcoming Libertadores tournament.
So how much Sunshine are we going to be pumping this year?
Mexico qualifies for Brasil'14 without any drama. I know, I know. What is the fun in that? Poor administrative decisions, coupled with Mexico's delay in transitioning to the younger, more talented base came dangerously close to leaving Mexico out in 2010. This time around, the base is still young, and they have a World Cup's worth of experience. Their coach is all business and refuses to be satisfied with the team's accomplishments over the past two years. He sees them the foundation for more important objectives. The Mexican press and some fans will be obsessed with the three Gs (gustar, ganar, y golear - play well, win, and score a lot of goals). If the semi-final round was any indication, however, the only letters Chepo de la Torre will be interested in are W and Q. And he won't care how it happens as long as it happens, preferably as soon as possible.
My picks for the Hex survivors? Mexico, USA, Panama - with Honduras eeking out Costa Rica for the playoff spot.
Xolos does not get "campeonitis" Defending champs have historically struggled in Liga MX, and it has been nearly 10 years since a team has repeated. Tijuana is venturing into even more uncharted waters as Liga MX champions; it's the ol' hunter becomes the hunted routine. They also have drawn a tough, but manageable group in the Libertadores, where they will make their debut against none other than the defending champs, Corinthians. That should be plenty of motivation to avoid complacency.
Carlos Vela makes a triumphant return to the National Team A quick look at the top scoring Mexican expats in 2012 would show Carlos Vela, not Chicharito, at the top of the list. Production like that would normally be hard to ignore,(especially in Mexico where offensive players are a luxury) were it not for a ridiculous mine is bigger contest that Vela and Chepo de la Torre have been conducting for the better part of a year and a half. I keep hearing that the lines of communication have been reopened. We'll know in February if that was indeed the case when Mexico kicks off the Hex against Jamaica.
The U-20's have a strong showing in Turkey In 2007, the base of the U17 side that won the World Cup in Peru were one of the favorites at the U20 in Canada. Unfortunately for them, they drew the eventual winners, Argentina in the quarterfinals, and lost 1-0. The base of that side graduated to become the base of Mexico's current national team. This crop of players may not have the star power of that '07 side, but they played extremely well as a team in 2011. That should continue in 2013. That is not to say, though, that they have not made their minutes on the Liga MX fields count. None more so than Julio "la momia" Gómez, the bicycle kicking hero of the semi-final vs Germany. He was about the only bright spot in Hugo Sánchez' disastrous spell at Pachuca.
Javier Hernandez' work ethic influences Gio Dos Santos and Carlos Vela Speaking of that 2007 U20 team... isn't interesting that they guy who wasn't even a starter on that side has gone on to be more productive and successful at this point in his career than those two superstars? I am not necessarily a ManU fan, but their games are appointment viewing at Chez Jagou because I love watching Chicharito play. He may not score, but I know he is going to give it his absolute best effort to do so for every minute he is on the pitch. It makes me wonder just how good Gio and Vela would be if they had half of Chicharito's determination and will to succeed.
Chatón Enríquez makes the move to Europe There is a very palpable change in the career aspirations of the newer generations of Mexican players. These cats want a chance to succeed in the stronger European Leagues. Diego Reyes, the highly skilled, and super skinny Club América defender, took less money to make a deal with Porto because of their excellent record in player development. This is in stark contrast to the "why would I play over there when I make more money in Mexico" attitude that permeated previous generations. There are quite a few players who have the talent to play in Europe: Hector Herrera and Marco Fabián have been flirting with a Winter window move. The one that has the most upside, though, is Jorge "Chatón" Enriquez. The Chivas midfielder is destined to not only man the middle for Mexico for the next 10 years, he'll likely do so wearing the captain's armband. For Chatón, it is a matter of when, not if.
Mexico wins their 3rd Gold Cup in a row The biennial 10,000-mile-frequent-flier-account-padding known as the Gold Cup will be played again this summer. Just what we need not only in the middle of the Hex, but after the Confed Cup. Like you, I 'm thinking why? Before we go on and on about the poor timing of the tournament, one only needs to go back to 2009 to see how well it benefited Mexico -- they found their base not only for the rest of the Hex (in which they did not lose a match), but the World Cup as well (until Vasco went cuckoo). The 2013 addition will see Mexico criss-cross the US again, but instead of looking for a base, Chepo will be looking at who else can make contributions. I would expect the side to be made up of Confed Cup reserve players who did not see much time in Brazil, former Olympic team players, and other fringe players - like a Nery Castillo.
A Mexican player leads Liga MX in scoring It doesn't happen very often, but this season and next would be a perfect time for a local guy to get hot. Just ask Oribe Peralta.
Landon Donovan sign with Club América They are always looking to make the "fichaje bomba" and none would be bigger than el verdugo. One of FMF's missions was to make the league more attractive for fans in the stands, viewers on TV (and advertisers, of course). Donovan has flirted with the Mexico City side in the past and has far more gas in the tank than the South American has-beens Club América usually signs. Moreover, this kind of move would bring a new audience to Liga MX, which is something it sorely needs. Did I mention that Club América plays its home games in the plum Saturday afternoon time slot on a national network in the US? Make this happen, Televisa.
Pumas gets back to the liguilla The Mexico City side (and the team of my heart) has played badly and made worse administrative decisions since winning it all in the C2011 season. It's not much to ask, to be better than half the teams in league. Please? Please?
Have a safe and happy 2013