GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The countdown to the World Cup for Yanks based south of the border is officially on with the Liga MX starting back up this weekend.
For the hopefuls, it's worth remembering that six months out from the 2010 World Cup, Herculez Gomez was nowhere near the US national team squad. But a league scoring title later, he reserved his place.
Fast forward four years and Gomez (above) is still very much on Jurgen Klinsmann's radar, but still has work to do to be on that plane to Brazil.
Ahead of the Clausura 2014 season in the Liga MX, Gomez first needs to convince incoming Club Tijuana coach César Farías that he is worthy of a place in the starting XI, beginning on Saturday against Atlas (Univision Deportes, 10 pm ET).
Part of his competition in the forward positions at Tijuana is 18-year-old Paul Arriola (at right), who was a revelation in his debut season last time out and is a player Klinsmann will be watching closely in coming months.
Edgar Castillo looks set to start at left back for Xolos and will be hoping to prove to Klinsmann that he is the natural choice at left back for the USMNT.
Backing the New Mexican up will be Texan Greg Garza, who has filled in for Castillo admirably and will be looking to make that next step and become more of a regular during 2014.
For Joe Corona, the change of coach at Tijuana means his path to a starting spot has opened up again following a frustrating six months.
In Tijuana’s youth ranks, Alejandro Guido and Stevie Rodriguez are inching closer to first team minutes and will be buoyed by the fact Xolos have a coach known for placing trust in young players.
The wild cards in terms of Americans in the Liga MX this season are undoubtedly new Cruz Azul signings Jose Villarreal and Michael Farfan. How many minutes they will get in the first team is difficult to predict, but the rewards of featuring regularly for one of the league’s strongest teams are potentially massive.
La Máquina start their season with a tricky trip to face Monterrey (UniMas, Saturday, 8 pm ET), for whom forward Alonso Hernandez is on the cusp of the first team.
Over at Puebla, DaMarcus Beasley (right) and Michael Orozco kick off at Pumas UNAM and both are strong contenders for Brazil if they can keep up their form from 2013 (Univision, Sunday, 1 pm ET).
Jonathan Bornstein has been given a new lease of life following his move from Tigres to Atlante – who host champions León on Sunday (Univision Deportes, Sunday, 6 pm ET) – after a torrid time battling for minutes.
Former teammate Jose Torres is facing that same struggle this season and started Tigres’ final preparation game on the bench, with Carlos Salcido and Guido Pizarro in the central midfield positions.
Also battling for his place at Tigres is Juan Pablo Ocegueda, who is back in Monterrey after a loan spell with Chivas Guadalajara. Tigres face Club América on Saturday in Estadio Azteca (Univision, 6 pm ET).
In Torreón, Benji Joya opted to stay with Copa Libertadores-bound Santos Laguna, who start the Clausura at home to Chivas on Friday (Univision Deportes, 10:30 pm ET).
Down in Mexico’s second division, Lobos BUAP will be the focus of American interest with duo Marco Vidal and Daniel Cuevas. The Puebla-based team begins its campaign on Saturday against Zacatepec (8 pm ET).
Former Chivas USA forward Jesus Padilla will feature for Ballenas Galeana this season and will likely debut on Sunday against Cruz Azul Hidalgo (1 pm ET).
Goalkeeper Austin Guerrero is also in line to debut for Altamira, who face Sonny Guadarrama's and Ventura Alvarado’s Necaxa (Friday, 9 pm ET).
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.