Mexico’s soccer system has undergone drastic changes following the decision to suspend promotion to and relegation from Liga MX.
The top flight in Mexico was already a renowned breeding ground of potential, with many players moving to Europe at a young age after a mere season or two of Liga MX success. Its coaches are often eager to hand juniors a senior spotlight, giving youngsters like Jose Juan Macias, Jonathan Gonzalez and Roberto Alvarado the platform to thrive in recent years.
Here we take a look at those most promising under-21 players who look ready to have their breakthrough campaign in Liga MX.
10. Maximiliano Araujo, 20 (Puebla)
Not a lot was known of Maximiliano Araujo when Puebla announced his arrival in January 2020, but that offers some clue as to where his future lies: out of left field.
Adept at left-back or further afield, the 20-year-old arrived at Estadio Cuauhtémoc with 33 first-team appearances for Montevideo Wanderers, and almost as many for Uruguay’s under-20s (28).
An average of one assist every 11 games at his former club doesn't inspire much confidence, but his experience in Uruguay's top tier—and his six caps for the country's under-23s—gives him a rare edge.
9. Jose Ortiz, 21 (Mazatlán)
Mazatlan couldn’t have opened the history books in much poorer a fashion than their 4-1 hammering at home to Puebla in Week 1 when Jose Ortiz showed his youth at times.
One poor start can’t paper over that potential the 21-year-old had shown prior, however, first for Deportivo Pasto in his native Colombia and then for Morelia in his debut Liga MX campaign.
Ortiz receives extra brownie points for versatility in that he’s played across the back line, though the majority of his experience has come in central defence.
8. Jorge Garcia, 18 (Cruz Azul)
The pathway to Cruz Azul’s starting right-back slot is hardly clear for Jorge Garcia, but the brief glimpses seen thus far suggest he could become a great asset for the club.
Juan Escobar and an aging Joaquin Martinez sit ahead of Garcia in the pecking order, but the 18-year-old has range on his side after playing in defensive midfield and at centre-back as a youth.
Garcia’s only senior start to date came in a 4-0 win over Jamaican club Portmore United in the CONCACAF Champions League, when he registered one assist and earned a penalty:
The opposition may have been inferior compared to what he’ll face in Liga MX, but that comfort taking the ball forward will only endear Garcia among Cruz Azul fans should he stick at right-back.
7. Angel Orelien, 19 (Cruz Azul)
Angel Orelien is unique among those listed in that he’s already made his full senior debut, though one would be forgiven for still not knowing who he is considering that those two caps are for Panama.
Nevertheless, there was some excitement when Cruz Azul confirmed the 19-year-old’s capture in July 2019, fending off alleged interest from clubs in Europe.
A wide midfielder who can also play centrally and loves to attack opponents directly, Orelien provided Panama with panache when they made it to the last 16 16 at last year’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
6. Haret Ortega, 20 (Toluca)
Club América may live to regret including a purchase option in Haret Ortega’s loan to Toluca when looking back at the promise he’s displayed early in his career.
The 20-year-old kept two clean sheets in his only two starts for America during the 2019-20 Clausura, leaving a positive impression on ESPN FC’s Tom Marshall in his debut:
More seasoned veterans Bruno Valdez and Emanuel Aguilera mean his immediate future lies west of the capital, but his stock appears set to jump as soon as he receives chances with Toluca.
5. Efrain Orona, 21 (Pachuca)
Pachuca set a high bar in producing top-quality youth in Liga MX, and Efrain Orona is quickly developing into one of the latest jewels off their factory line.
Captain Jorge Hernandez—a Pachuca legend-in-waiting—holds the seat as mentor in defensive midfield, but Orona has looked ready to supplement that anchor position when called upon so far.
The 21-year-old has divided his time between midfield and central defence but might be at his best in the more advanced role, so as to not waste his forward-thinking ways in possession.
4. Sebastian Caceres, 20 (Club América)
Another factor in why América saw fit to farm out the aforementioned Ortega is Sebastian Caceres, who is already starter with the domestic giants at 20. Among the latest in the "tough, Uruguayan centre-back" range, he's played all but nine minutes in America's first two games of the 2020 Apertura.
Caceres made 64 appearances for Liverpool Montevideo before leaving his native Uruguay for Mexico City in January 2020, and Miguel Herrera appears to be a fan.
3. Cesar Huerta, 19 (Mazatlán)
There may not be many players who have already represented four clubs at the professional level by 19, which might be a symbol of the interest Cesar Huerta continues to drum up.
The Chivas product left Guadalajara in July to join Mazatlán on loan, having spent the 2019-20 Clausura with Morelia, and a dazzling debut goal provided some consolation despite their 4-1 defeat:
Huerta failed to score in 10 appearances for Morelia but is already impressing up front with the new franchise and showing quick progress at Liga MX standards.
2. Carlos Gutierrez, 21 (Pumas)
One year on loan at Atlético San Luis has looked hugely beneficial to Carlos Gutierrez, who is back at UNAM Pumas and making the senior right-back spot his own.
The 21-year-old has started both games in their 100-percent start to the Apertura and assisted Juan Dinenno for a late winner in their opener 3-2 opener against Queretaro.
It’s a rare talent that looks so comfortable playing any position down one flank. Gutierrez did so down both sides while at Atlético and looks ready to astutely answer whatever questions are asked of him.
1. German Berterame, 21 (Atlético San Luis)
The 2019-20 season might have convinced many German Berterame was a star-in-waiting already, but that early promise won't compare to what we may see of his story this season.
Berterame, 21, managed six goals in 26 appearances for Atlético San Luis last term, but the shackles look to have loosened further after scoring two in as many games this season:
Atlético will be elated if the Argentinian continues along those lines—doing damage off both wings as he has—and covet perhaps the most promising import in Liga MX.