Two of Mexico's "grandes," Chivas and Pumas, face off on Saturday night in what can legitimately be described as one of the most exciting games for the neutral Mexican football fan for some time. One big reason for the excitement is the amount of young Mexican talent displayed on both the Chivas and Pumas rosters.
Champions in the Clausura 2011, Pumas are riding on the crest of a wave following last season's glory, which delicately blended youth and experience. In the offseason, the institution had the confidence in the youth to shed experienced heads like Leandro Augusto, Jehu Chiapas, Israel Castro, and Dante López. A year ago, Pumas also lost some of their best, established young players in Efraín Juárez and Pablo Barrera, while six-months ago long-time goalkeeper Segio Bernal hung up his gloves. In their places have come youth products who have patiently waited for their chances: Alejandro Palacios, Javier Cortés, David Cabrera, Luis Fuentes, Eduardo Herrera, and Aaron Sandoval.
The general consensus is that the 1993 Copa América was the golden age of the Pumas youth system, with legends like Jorge Campos, Hugo Sánchez, and Claudio Súarez all starting in the final against Argentina. The word seems to be that the Pumas cantera (literally meaning "quarry") is back to producing real gems.
Guadalajara Chivas has long produced quality talent, partly because they have to. Only Mexicans play for Chivas, and it is well-known in Mexico that other clubs tend to inflate the price for players when Chivas are sniffing around.
Five of the starters from the Under-20 team's match against England on Thursday belong to Chivas, including the much-hyped Erick "Cubo" Torres. Amongst the Under-17 World Cup winners was Carlos Fierro, as well as two other Chivas players. Aside from Omar Arellano (who started his career with Chivas but moved to Pachuca with his father), all the Chivas players likely to start against Pumas will have come from the club´s youth system.
The ultimate recent success of Chivas players succeeding in Europe is Javier "Chicharito" Hernández. He's not the only one, though. Carlos Salcido, "Maza" Rodriguez, and Carlos Vela are all currently plying their trade across the Atlantic.
Even before Jorge Vergara took over the club in 2002, Chivas reformed their youth system. Vergara has strengthened the system and is adamant that new "signings" come in the form of promoting youth players into the first team squad, rather than bringing in outsiders.
There is also the real possibility that a number of the players involved on Saturday will be playing in Europe in the near future. Neither Chivas nor Pumas are against selling players to European clubs once players have established themselves in the first team.
But this is not just a game to spot up-and-coming talent. Both Pumas and Chivas are considered challengers for the Apertura 2011 title, along with Mexico´s other two "grandes," América and Cruz Azul, and Monterrey.
The difference in philosophy between Mexico´s four grandes is vast and enhances the Mexican league. On one side, América and Cruz Azul tend to spend big and buy players already established elsewhere. América splashed out on a deal worth almost 10 million dollars to bring Christian Benítez from Santos, and Cruz Azul rarely field homegrown talent.
On the other hand, Pumas and Chivas are gambling on their youth structures to provide them with the next big star, some of whom will be on display Saturday night.