GUADALAJARA, Mexico – There’s no point trying to cover it up. Over the last year, there hasn’t been the expected number of Americans down south jumping from youth systems to first teams.
Many of the players who have been on the brink and in or around the US national team youth setup recently – Benji Joya, Daniel Cuevas, Stevie Rodriguez, Alejandro Guido, among others – haven’t yet broken out. And their position, or non-inclusion, in the 24 Under 24 top-five list of young players south of the border is a natural reflection of that.
5) Benji Joya, Santos Laguna
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Joya is a potential future star of US soccer, with his infectious personality, strong character and the zero-to-hero backstory that would accompany it.
But all that is on the backburner until 20-year-old starts proving the hype by getting regular minutes in Santos Laguna’s first team or moves elsewhere, either on loan or permanently.
The midfielder can play in a variety of different roles, from central midfield to a No. 10 to on the wing, but since getting back from the U-20 World Cup in Turkey in July, Joya has played just 48 minutes for Los Guerreros in the Copa MX.
Joya’s Santos Laguna teammate and good friend Daniel Cuevas also deserves a mention. The forward was a bright spot for Tab Ramos’ U-20s, although with his club, he has yet to debut.
4) Paul Arriola, Club Tijuana
It has been a whirlwind initiation into the world of professional soccer for the 18-year-old, and the San Diego-area native has shown early signs that he is more than up to the task.
Level-headed off the field, the lightning quick winger has the raw ingredients to leave defenses quaking on it. Still, it is important to stress he has started only one league game and has just seven Liga MX appearances so far.
Having said that, if he can nail down a starting spot for Tijuana, there’s no reason to think he isn’t an outside shot for a call-up to the full US national team ahead of the World Cup, considering his skill set and the potential damage he could cause off the bench.
3) Alonso Hernandez, Monterrey
Fans who watched the US team at the U-20 World Cup may be scratching their heads at Hernandez's inclusion at No. 3 on this list. Not so for anyone who has watched him for Monterrey, where he has played behind a central striker and has notched two quality assists in his last two games.
Hernandez is part of a generation of youngsters at Los Rayados who may soon be establishing themselves ahead of those names regular CONCACAF Champions League watchers will be all too familiar with. That should tell you everything you need to know about how Hernandez is developing.
2) Greg Garza, Club Tijuana
Garza has been one of Club Tijuana’s most consistent performers this season, but one obstacle remains in the way of nailing down the left back position for both club and, possibly, for country: fellow American Edgar Castillo.
The two maintain a healthy rivalry on the field and are friends off it, with Garza, the amiable Texan, stressing that he is comfortable with whatever is best for the team.
“I wouldn’t say [it is a] battle, it’s as much as we can help the team that’s the most important thing for both of us,” Garza told MLSsoccer.com recently.
It is worth remembering that Garza only recently turned 22, has played at the problem left back position at every youth level for the United States and has a renewed spring in his step after an ankle injury hampered his Clausura 2013 season.
1) Joe Corona, Club Tijuana
As the only full US international south of the border younger than 24, Corona has to top the list.
The 23-year-old’s career over the last year has seen him become permanently cap-tied to the United States, feature in Xolos’ Copa Libertadores run and play a significant role in helping his side to the Apertura 2012 title. It has been packed with achievements.
Nevertheless, Corona has more hurdles to overcome. He isn’t currently getting the minutes he would like under coach Jorge Almirón at the club level, which, if it continues, will affect his place with the national team. Then there is the question of position. Corona has featured in central midfield, out wide and as a No. 10, but his club and national team managers seem to differ on where best to play him.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.