Time for Liga MX to develop home-grown strikers

Eduardo Aguirre inherited Santos' striker position after the club traded veteran Julio Furch. (Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images)
Eduardo Aguirre inherited Santos' striker position after the club traded veteran Julio Furch. (Photo by Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images) /
Liga MX young strikers
Cruz Azul’s Santiago Giménez celebrates after scoring against Pachuca in the Guardianes 2021 semifinals. The 20-year-old striker scored twice in the playoffs, helping the Cementeros win the Liga MX title this past season. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images) /

After Rogelio Funes Mori scored 4 minutes into his El Tri debut, the controversy over the inclusion of a naturalized player has simmered down … for now (the debate will surely arise again). Most Liga MX and Team Mexico fans will prefer that the off-the-field noise diminishes, allowing the boys to focus on winning the Concacaf Gold Cup again.

While that would be all well and good (silverware often trumps jingoism), the fact that Mexico lacks top-notch strikers is a long-running issue that is easily overlooked, particularly when the likes of “Chicharito” Hernández, Raúl Jiménez and “Chucky” Lozano are depositing the ball in the net.

The paucity of quality home-grown forwards on Liga MX rosters is a genuine concern, especially when Raúl’s injury transformed the dilemma into big headlines.

To be honest, it wasn’t a big secret to those who watch Liga MX, although the prognosis is probably not as dire as some naysayers might proclaim.

New El Tri coach identifies the problem

The predicament Gerardo Martino was forced to address was not unanticipated. Upon taking the job as Team Mexico coach, “Tata” asked the national soccer federation to tweak Liga MX rules on eligibility – specifically, the number of foreigners allowed on club rosters.

Martino argued that the excess number of foreigners allowed on team payrolls had a negative impact on player development, often limiting roster access for players coming through club academies.

More from Liga MX

He’s right, of course. And a brief glance at Liga MX line-ups over the years reveals that the foreigners club owners preferred were primarily attackers. Forwards from Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador populate training camps across the entire league.

A look at recent Liga MX scoring leaders would seem to confirm this conclusion. Since the league switched to a split-season format (two tournaments per year) in summer 1996, there have been only 10 Mexican Golden Boot winners, and only seven of those “goleadores” won the scoring title outright.

Ten Mexican scoring champs in the past 50 Liga MX seasons; and only one – Jared Borgetti in back-to-back seasons) won the title twice.

Here’s the list of Mexicans who’ve won the goal-scoring crown since 1996:

Luis García (Atlante), Invierno 1997 – 12 goals

Cuauhtémoc Blanco (América), Invierno 1998 – 16 goals

Jesús Olalde (Pumas), Invierno 1999 – 15 goals

Everaldo Begines (León), Verano 2000 – 14 goals (shared title with Necaxa’s Agustín Delgado and UAG’s Sebastián Abreu)

Jared Borgetti (Santos), Invierno 2000 – 17 goals

Jared Borgetti (Santos), Verano 2001 – 13 goals

Omar Bravo (Chivas), Clausura 2007 – 11 goals

Javier Hernández (Chivas), Bicentenario 2010 – 10 goals (shared title with Atlante’s Johan Fano and Puebla’s Hérculez Gómez)

Ángel Reyna (América), Clausura 2011 – 13 goals

Alan Pulido (Chivas), Apertura 2019 – 12 goals (shared title with Necaxa’s Mauro Quiroga)

So in the past decade (21 seasons), Mexicans have won just two Liga MX scoring titles. And Reyna was a midfielder.

Liga MX rules present new opportunities

This brings us back to the rules changes sought by “Tata” Martino. Liga MX bosses readily accepted the premise and took action in the summer of 2020, reducing the number of game-day roster spots designated for foreigners.

Last season, the number was lowered to 11 foreigners on game-day rosters with a limit of eight on the field. For the Apertura 2021, the number shrank a bit further, to 10. Beginning with the Apertura 2022, the limit will be reduced to 9 foreigners on game-day rosters.

The pandemic also served as an assist to Mexican-born players since owners were reluctant to lavish money on imports when cheaper alternatives were available on their own training grounds.

Several Liga MX clubs were proactive, already emphasizing player development from within. Santos Laguna is a strong case in point. Better yet, coach Guillermo Almada is willing and eager to use younger players, especially as it allows him to imprint his tactical constructs at the outset of players’ careers.

This past season, Eduardo Aguirre, 22, and Santi Muñoz, 18, saw plenty of playing time and they responded. Aguirre found the net eight times (five of those coming in the playoffs), while Muñoz scored three goals.

The Pumas were one club whose hand was forced by the pandemic and resulting austerity measures, but the exercise did not bear fruit. Emanuel Montejano, 19, scored in his debut in January, but that was his only goal. Most of their up-and-coming talent is concentrated in midfield.

Next. Whadda ya gonna do for an encore, Rogelio?. dark

Atlas showed confidence in home-grown players Jonathan Herrera, 20, and Jairo Torres, 21, while Liga MX champs Cruz Azul are grooming Santi Giménez, 20, for great things. We’ll certainly be looking forward to watching these players – and other youngsters – make their marks on the upcoming season and beyond.