Hirving Lozano not the only young talent set to lead Mexico forward
MEXICO CITY -- At one point during Tuesday night's 1-0 loss to Chile, Hirving Lozano flew down the wing to recover a ball one of his teammates had lost far up the field. Minutes later, he was marking Alexis Sanchez as the Manchester United star attempted to create a chance for his country. Later in the match, Lozano paired with Jesus Gallardo to pressure Chile into turning the ball over in their defensive third.
For most of the match in Queretaro, Mexico's best player was also their most industrious.
The endless energy displayed by the 23-year-old Lozano serves as a harbinger for Mexico's next group of players on the road to Qatar 2022. Soon, the group led by Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno will step aside or fade away in favor of the new generation. After decades of sustained growth in player development but stagnation in results -- especially at World Cups -- there's plenty to get excited about for El Tri fans in the future.
On Tuesday, Mexico fielded a starting lineup where the oldest player was 29 years old. Though this would not be considered El Tri's best available squad, there were seven Europe-based players on the field at the beginning of the match.
Lozano is the most obvious gem in the group. After one full season in Europe the PSV winger is polished, smooth on the ball and clinical in front of goal. The leap he's made in such a short time should convince anyone still on the fence that he can likely do the same in a far more difficult league and for a far more high-profile team. The calls for him to eventually join the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United are not at all exaggerated.
Joining him in the Dutch Eredivisie this summer was Erick Gutierrez, a versatile midfielder who seems to shine the brightest when he's paired up with his old friend Lozano. On more than one occasion, Gutierrez saved an errant set-piece play from Mexico by using his size and instinct on the ball to create an opportunity in front of goal. Repeatedly, he's shown to be a player who can be counted on to both launch attacks from the midfield and deny opposing advances.
Though critics have been especially tough on him in the past, Raul Jimenez is 27 and entering his first season in Europe as a first-choice striker for his club. Oh, and he's doing it in arguably the best league in the world. Mexican fans are notoriously harsh on their own, but Jimenez's undeniable skill, great passing and overall instinct in the box has impressed the Wolves supporters. On Tuesday, he was isolated in the center at times but still found ways to bring Marco Fabian, Jesus Corona, Lozano or Gutierrez into play.
In defence, there's a reason why there was special concern when injury kept Celta Vigo's Nestor Araujo out of the World Cup. His size, speed and ability to command teammates is a rarity in Mexican soccer. His work both on and off the ball against Queretaro was impeccable.
Perhaps Ricardo Ferretti, Mexico's interim manager, exaggerated a bit when he claimed that "80 percent of the team tonight will make the  World Cup" in the post-match news conference, especially considering there are other, younger players pushing up as we speak, as well as established veterans who still have one cycle in them.
Ferretti called up Club America's 18-year-old wunderkind Diego Lainez in the last round of friendlies. In Mexico's century-plus of organized soccer, there has perhaps never been such a talented midfielder at such a young age available to the national team. Lainez's emergence has come at the same time as Roberto Alvarado, the 20-year-old midfielder with similar skills. The comparisons have come so often but Alvarado, Cruz Azul's latest starlet, believes they're different types of players on the ball.
Monterrey's Jonathan Gonzalez, who could have chosen to represent United States, is a more than tantalizing option for El Tri's midfield.
There is even untapped talent outside of Liga MX. Joao Maleck, the 19-year-old Cameroonian-Mexican forward who passed through Guadalajara and Santos Laguna's youth academies, could debut for Sevilla this season after featuring for Porto B last season. Omar Govea, on loan from Porto at Belgian club Royal Antwerp, is in his fourth season in Europe at just 22. In MLS, the 16-year-old Efrain Alvarez seems to be a special talent whose switch from United States to Mexico, in the vein of Gonzalez, represents a major catch.
Finally, yet importantly, freed of the shadow cast by El Tri's accomplished veterans, goalkeepers Hugo Gonzalez (28), Gibran Lajud (24) and Raul Gudino (22) have shown they are capable of taking the reins should Guillermo Ochoa decide to step back from international duty or be unavailable.
As a country so obsessed with soccer and blessed with conditions that favor a vast reservoir of prospects, Mexico has consistently produced its share of talented players. Thankfully, the isolationism that kept everyone outside of Hugo Sanchez and Rafael Marquez from developing abroad is over. Now, more than ever, the country's elite players are getting their opportunities to grow elsewhere, somethign that favors El Tri's next generation as it rallies around for the long World Cup cycle ahead.