GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Jurgen Klinsmann’s penchant for players with the technique to play in the Mexican first division has been plain to see.
In the US coach’s very first squad back in August 2011, one of the standout features was the return of Mexico-based players to the squad. Suddenly, José Torres, Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo were back, and all started in the 1-1 draw against Mexico.
Since then, Santos Laguna’s Herculez Gomez has established himself as a regular and Joe Corona has graduated from the Under-23 squad, while Puebla’s DaMarcus Beasley has been in and out of the meet-ups.
But there are other potential US national team players in Mexico that play regularly in the Liga MX but didn’t grow up in the United States.
Could any of these three add anything to the national team as the US move towards 2014?
Ricardo Bocanegra (Atlas)
The 23-year-old, Las Vegas-born central midfielder has similar playing qualities as Corona and Torres. Bocanegra is technically gifted, can comfortably receive and distribute the ball in tight spaces and has excellent vision.
Anyone who watched Atlas salvage a 1-1 draw in the Estadio Tecnológico against Monterrey last weekend had to be impressed by Bocanegra’s range of passing and ability to cause problems for the home side. He even hit the bar with one effort from outside the box.
Bocanegra was set to be an integral part of Mexico’s Olympic squad and won the gold medal at the Pan American Games last October. He was playing well enough that coach Luis Fernando Tena made him a starting midfielder during that tournament in a position stacked with talent.
After that, though, Bocanegra was ditched from the Mexico setup, without any explanation.
The negative blotch on Bocanegra’s playbook is off-the-field problems. He was temporarily dropped to the Atlas Under-20 squad for a misdemeanor last March and wasn’t given much first-team playing time by coach Juan Carlos Chávez following the incident.
Last week, however, Tomás Boy took charge of Atlas and Bocanegra was restored to the starting lineup, where is now likely to get an opportunity to finally establish himself.
First-division appearances: 25
Cirilo Saucedo (Club Tijuana)
The latest player in Mexico to be “outed” as having links to the United States, Saucedo could qualify to play between the pipes for the United States through his mother, who is a US citizen, but does not have the required papers at this time.
In the event that the legal situation could be sorted, there is reason to believe Saucedo would be in the goalkeeping mix for the US. The 30-year-old is one of the best ‘keepers at coming out for crosses in the Liga MX and is also a convincing shot-stopper. He’s in the form of his life at present and is a major reason why the Xolos have conceded only 18 goals in their last 25 regular-season games. Saucedo was also on the shortlist for the award for best goalkeeper of last season’s Clausura 2012.
It goes without saying that Tim Howard is the undisputed number one for the US, but Saucedo would provide competition for the other spots in the squad, along with the likes of Nick Rimando, Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson.
First-division appearances: 251
Diego de la Torre (Querétaro)
De la Torre qualifies for the US through his grandmother and can play as a wide player, in central midfield or as a deep-lying striker. Interest from US Soccer in the 28-year-old first manifested itself back in 2008 under Bob Bradley, but a call-up never materialized.
The son of Mexican international Ramón de la Torre has previous stated his desire to play for USMNT, and the preseason move from Toluca to Querétaro in the summer seemed to assure him of a starting spot at club level to help make his claim.
However, a broken leg suffered in a preseason friendly against Morelia has delayed de la Torre’s debut for the Gallos Blancos, although he should be in the frame for his first minutes when the league resumes on Sept. 14.
While the US national team is seemingly well-equipped in de la Torre’s primary positions, a good run of form from the Mexican first-division stalwart – who helped Toluca to two league titles – could bring him into Klinsmann’s thinking.
First-division appearances: 158
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.