On Saturday, while Mexico's senior national team faces Guatemala in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the future of El Tri will be on display south of the border at the FIFA Under 17 World Cup. Operating in the shadows of the much higher profile Gold Cup, Copa America, and U-20 World Cup this summer, Mexico's Under 17 squad will nonetheless be the only one of these teams participating in a tournament in their home country.
The host nation team is currently training in Morelia, ahead of Saturday night's opening match against North Korea at Estadio Morelos. Mexico has been drawn into Group A, where they will face, in succession, North Korea, Congo, and the Netherlands. The young Mexico squad will be looking to recreate the magic of 2005, when led by Carlos Vela they made a run all they way to the U-17 World Cup title. This time they get the added bonus of playing at home in front of their own fans. Mexico's three group play matches will be played in Morelia and Monterrey. If they can manage another dream run, the final will take place in Mexico City at Estadio Azteca on July 10th.
The Mexico Under 17 squad is led by manager Raul Gutierrez. A former America and Atlante player, Gutierrez has guided the team on a fairly successful pre-tournament run. A South American tour in May included two wins over Argentina, one of them by a 4-0 margin. Most recently, the team finished its tournament preparations by beating Ivory Coast last week, and drawing France 2-2 this past Saturday.
The young team features several notable talents. One is likely starting goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, currently with FC Dallas. A highly promising young keeper, Sanchez was born in the United States, and has spent time training with the Atletico Madrid youth system. In the midfield will be Julio Gomez, the rare U-17 player with actual first team experience in the Mexican Primera. Gomez appeared in five matches for the Pachuca senior squad this season, including two starts. Another promising midfielder is Alfonso Gonzalez, an Atlas youth product, who plays very well along the right side. Up front the team will be led by Chivas product Carlos Fierro, who is Mexico’s most dangerous scoring weapon. Fierro scored in both wins over Argentina back in May, and also scored in both tune-up matches -- against Ivory Coast and France -- during the past week.
As host nation, Mexico will be expected to at least move on to the knockout round. While they definitely have the talent to advance past the group stage, it certainly won't be easy. After the opener against North Korea, Gutierrez must guide his team past difficult first round games against the Netherlands and Congo. If everything goes according to plan, his young squad will come together and make another dream run all the way to Estadio Azteca for the final match of the Under 17 World Cup in July.
Full Mexico Under 17 roster listing, by position:
Dilan Nicoletti (Newells Old Boys, Argentina)
Richard Sanchez (FC Dallas)
Jose Gonzalez (Pachuca)
Francisco Flores (Cruz Azul)
Carlos Guzman (Monarcas Morelia)
Antonio Briseno (Atlas)
Jorge Caballero (Monterrey)
Luis Solorio (Chivas)
Luis Guzman (Atlas)
Felipe Sifuentes (Monterrey)
Jose Pablo Tostado (Chivas)
Kevin Escamilla (Pumas UNAM)
Jorge Espericueta (UANL Tigres)
Julio Gomez (Pachuca)
Alfonso Gonzalez (Atlas)
Enrique Flores (Monterrey)
Giovani Casillas (Chivas)
Carlos Fierro (Chivas)
Marco Bueno (Pachuca)
Daniel Hernandez (Atlas)
Marcelo Gracia (Monterrey)