GUADALAJARA, Mexico – It’s not easy to break into a Mexican first-division side that is filled with international stars and flying high at the top end of the league.
Five US-born Under-20 players did preseason with the Tigres UANL first team this summer and first-team debuts seemed to be in the cards for all of them.
But none has seen the pitch so far in the Apertura tournament, with just two games of the regular season left.
“We’ll see what happens,” 19-year-old winger Victor Garza told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday after going 73 minutes in the Tigres Under-20s’ 4-2 loss to their Guadalajara counterparts. “Hopefully the first-division team qualifies for the Libertadores or [CONCACAF Champions League] and younger players can get some playing time.”
Garza has started 11 U-20s games for Tigres this season, notching up 900 minutes on the field in total.
Oxnard, Calif., natives Moises Orozco and cousin Emilio Orozco have not been as fortunate. Striker Moises (pictured above), not in Guadalajara due to a minor injury, has only six starts under his belt this season. Emilio has only started five games and cites the moving down of players from the first team as a hindrance to regularly starting.
“It’s frustrating because you get no playing time,” lamented the 19-year-old defender. “It removes the rhythm. It’s hard out here.”
Texan Uvaldo Luna, 17, regularly comes off the bench for the Under-20s and scored on Wednesday against Chivas.
“I’m happy,” he said. “Not everybody gets the opportunity and I keep on working hard each day and when I have the opportunity I do my best.”
Eighteen-year-old Juan Pablo Ocegueda, the other American to do preseason with the first team, has endured a injury-plagued Apertura tournament and has only two full games to his name.
In terms of the US national team, the three young Tigres with whom MLSsoccer.com spoke on Wednesday have reacted positively to recent changes in the US setup, especially the appointment of Uruguayan-born former US legend Tab Ramos as US Under-20 national team coach.
“I heard Klinsmann is trying to get more Hispanics in the national team,” said Garza. “Hopefully we’ll get a call-up.”
Added Luna: “I’m going to keep working hard, and if [Ramos] likes my style of play, I’m more than willing to go to the national team.”
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter: @mexicoworldcup