This may be just a friendly for Mexico, but the stakes are much higher than that. A first trip to Europe since June 2018 affords El Tri the chance to test themselves against elite competition and show they deserve to be considered one of the best national teams in the world. More importantly, however, today’s duel against the Dutch will be a crucial signpost in an increasingly intriguing arms race with the United States.
Since they disputed their first official match in 1923, Mexico has enjoyed an almost uninterrupted reign over the region that came to be known as CONCACAF. Seven straight World Cup knockout stage appearances speak to a consistency that is the envy of their local rivals. Meanwhile, the likes of Hugo Sánchez, Rafael Márquez and Javier Hernández have starred for some of the biggest clubs in the world.
However, El Tri’s dominance in North America could soon be coming to an end. Their northern neighbors have produced a vaunted “golden generation”, and those players are beginning to shine at the top level.
In the Bundesliga, Giovanni Reyna has a goal and four assists for Borussia Dortmund so far this campaign, while Tyler Adams is a key cog in Champions League semifinalist RB Leipzig’s well-oiled machine. Sergiño Dest just secured a dream move to Barcelona. On Italian shores, Weston McKennie has hit the ground running with new club Juventus. Most notably, the bright lights of the Premier League have not bothered Christian Pulisic, who established himself as one of the division’s best attackers last season with Chelsea.
Having a host of excellent European performers does not guarantee that the Stars and Stripes will challenge for the World Cup in 2022, but their presence at some of the old continent’s biggest clubs stands in stark contrast to the relative lack of Mexicans in similar positions. Real Betis winger Diego Lainez is the only Mexican aged 22 or younger on the books of a team in one of Europe’s top five leagues, compared to a whopping nine Americans.
That disparity should not necessarily set alarm bells ringing for fans of El Tri. Gerardo Martino can call on a deep pool of promising domestic-based players, and some of those starlets have already demonstrated their worth in the senior side. Furthermore, Liga MX’s continued dominance in the CONCACAF Champions League proves that it provides a more competitive atmosphere than what MLS can give American up-and-comers.
However, that superiority should not keep Mexican talents from trying their luck on the other side of the pond; Lainez is a cautionary tale after struggling to get consistent game time in Spain, but Hirving Lozano’s improvement is plain for all to see after sticking around to fight for his place at Napoli. More Mexicans need to adopt that adventurous attitude or risk stagnating.
In that context, the meeting with Holland is a golden opportunity for the likes of César Montes and Gilberto Sepúlveda to put themselves in the shop window. The Oranje are an international powerhouse and will be looking to prepare for their upcoming UEFA Nations League contests in the best way possible. Overcoming Virgil Van Dijk and company would certainly open a few eyes abroad, but it would also serve as a timely reminder of Mexico’s status as the apex predator in the regional footballing food chain.