Uriel Antuna has so far been the revelation of the Gold Cup. The player, who was the only non-injured cut besides Raul Gudiño from the final list for the Gold Cup, only made it to the tournament because of a last-minute injury to Jorge Sanchez. Now he sits atop of the goal scoring table of the competition and looks set to be a starter for Mexico as long as Rodolfo Pizarro is not 100% fit. Both Antuna and Jorge Sanchez are part of an interesting phenom as they are all available to play for Mexico’s U-23 team that is looking to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, which if they qualify might be Mexico’s most important tournament of next year. But with Mexico finishing in third-place in the Toulon Tournament and with the tradition of Mexico’s youth coaches of valuing playing together for a time over talent, the question is will coach Jaime Lozano pay attention to them?
Mexico’s Gold Cup team is filled with young players and many of them are eligible for the 2020 U-23 team. Along with Antuna and Jorge Sanchez, Roberto Alvarado, Alexis Vega, Carlos Rodriguez and Cesar Montes are all eligible to play in the team. However, none of them have seen much action with Lozano, probably because of activity with the senior national team. Antuna, Sanchez, Montes and Alvarado (along with Diego Lainez) were all part of the 2018 Toulon team that finished in second-place, although it wasn’t under Lozano but Marco Antonio Ruiz (who now coaches the U-17). Lozano might have the benefit of having a midfield duo who regularly plays in Monterrey with Rodriguez and Jonathan Gonzalez, who is also eligible for the Olympics, and yet it’s not a guarantee at all whether Lozano will use them or not. He might go with his players in Toulon like Joaquin Esquivel, Sebastian Cordova and Fernando Beltran, all of them very far from getting an opportunity in the senior team like the ones mentioned.
Mexico finished in third-place in the Toulon tournament under Lozano. While it’s a positive result, Mexico didn’t impress with their level of play. Mexico benefited from being in the weakest group of the tournament, and although they were solid defensively, offensively they suffered. For most critics, Paolo Yrizar had some of the weakest performances of the group, and still continued starting up until the third-place match. A similar thing happened at goalkeeper where Sebastian Jurado, widely considered the best Mexican prospect in the position, got benched for Jose Hernandez, who has more experience playing with Mexican youth teams. Jurado didn’t get a start until the third-place game and then was key in the penalty shootout that gave Mexico the third-place finish. Things like that increase the fear that Lozano will continue with the pattern of Mexico youth coaches of passing on more talented players for players that are “known” by the coach and that have been part of the “process” for longer. Unfortunately a lot of Mexico’s players fall under the category of not being participants of that process, including most of the Gold Cup squad.
Mexico has a tough road to even get to the 2020 Summer Olympics. Mexico has to qualify under the CONCACAF U-23 Championship, where only the top two teams are guaranteed qualification to the Olympic games. The qualifiers are set to take part later this year, although it still not officially been announced. Mexico might have a great team in the making if you add the players mentioned, plus Jose Juan Macias and Diego Lainez, who were part of the failed U-20 World Cup campaign. But for Mexico to get to the Olympics, it must be able to qualify, and even then there is the danger that Jaime Lozano will go with the team he has been playing, one which is nowhere near the level of talent of the players out of it because of their senior team participation. It would be a big step backwards if Lozano doesn’t pay attention and wastes this tremendous opportunity given to him.