Rejuvenated El Tri meets Chile in Austin for friendly

Marcelo Flores protects the ball as Spain's Saúl Zamora pursues. Flores is expected to debut with Mexico's senior team tonight. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Marcelo Flores protects the ball as Spain's Saúl Zamora pursues. Flores is expected to debut with Mexico's senior team tonight. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /
El Tri v Chile
La Galaxy teammates Efraín Álvarez (center) and Julián Araujo (left) could see time together on the pitch for El Tri tonight. (Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images) /

The Liga MX Final is a day away but Mexico soccer fans will have football fever anyway. Fans of El Tri will tune into Gerardo Martino’s final match of the year tonight against Chile in Austin, Texas, eager to see what his roster of youngsters promise for the future.

The game is just another money-making friendly for the FMF and, since it is not a FIFA date, clubs are not obligated to release players. That means no European-based players were available and Martino faced some restrictions within the Liga MX since playoffs were under way.

So, much to the delight of the El Tri faithful, the embattled national team coach opted for a youthful roster. Although those in attendance at Q2 Stadium won’t see their (underperforming) heroes, they could see a few players who lead El Tri through the rest of the decade, and maybe beyond.

El Tri Reloaded

The inclusion of Marcelo Flores on the list of invitees grabbed all the headlines as the 18-year-old Arsenal academy player has three passports (Mexico, Canada, England) and Mexico is desperate to claim him.

The announcement came only a few days after Flores led El Tri to victory in the Revelations Cup, an international tournament organized by the Mexican Soccer Federation for Under-20 teams.

In the El Tri camp this past week, coach Martino has praised Flores for his vision, his technical skills and his tactical knowledge. If the kid stars against Chile, one wonders (nay, hopes) that Martino would not hesitate to invite Flores to the senior camp ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in late January.

There are other youngsters set to play in Austin that should also energize the eternally fickle El Tri Nation, two of whom also have multiple passports – Julián Araujo of the LA Galaxy.

The reassuring news with regard to the 20-year-old right back is that he submitted paperwork to declare his intention to play for Mexico’s senior team (Araujo played with Team USA in a friendly in December 2020) and FIFA approved the switch in October.

The other player with two passports is forward Benjamín Galdames (Mexico, Chile). The 20-year-old was born in Mexico City while his father played for Cruz Azul and currently plays in Unión Española in Chile. He has played with two El Tri youth teams (U-20 and U-21) since October 2020. This will be his first appearance with the senior national team.

Other young players to watch on Wednesday night are winger Efraín Álvarez, 19 (LA Galaxy), defender Emilio Lara, 19 (América) and left back Omar Campos, 19 (Santos).

Álvarez was on the El Tri roster for the Gold Cup but saw little action, while Lara and Campos will be making their senior debuts. Campos has been a revelation with Santos, helping the Guerreros reach the Liga MX finals last season and starting all 17 games he appeared this season.

Also participating in their first senior El Tri camp are defenders Luis Olivas, 21 (Chivas) and Ismael Reyes, 21 (Puebla), as well as winger/fullback Salvador Reyes, 23 (América). They are joined by six Olympic bronze medal winners: goalie Luis Malagón (Necaxa), fullback/midfielder Erick Aguirre (Monterrey), winger Uriel Antuna (Chivas), midfielders Sebastián Córdova (América) and Fernando Beltrán (Chivas), plus forward Eduardo Aguirre (Santos).

A few other players to keep an eye on are Cruz Azul striker Santi Giménez, 20, and Santos midfielder Alan Cervantes, 23. Giménez has worked well with Flores in the El Tri training camp while Cervantes is a ball hawk who could help rejuvenate an aging Mexican midfield.

And between the pipes …

The selection of Santos Laguna goalie Carlos Acevedo thrilled fans of the acrobatic netminder. Acevedo has been the club’s No. 1 since summer 2020 and his spectacular saves have earned him the captain’s armband as well as the nickname “Guardián de los Guerreros.”

Along with Necaxa’s Malagón, Acevedo is prepared to make a case for national team gatekeeper of the future. The pair of young netminders – Acevedo is 25, Malagón, 24 – shared time with veteran Alfredo Talavera, 39, in the El Tri camp. It will be interesting to see if Martino shows faith in the kids or if opts for the security of the experienced “Tala.”

Next. Atlas advances to Liga MX Final. dark

Three of the Chilean players will be familiar to El Tri fans. Defender Sebastián Vegas has played in Liga MX since 2016, first with Monarcas Morelia and now with Monterrey; midfielder Claudio Baeza played with Nexaca upon arriving in Mexico in 2019 and is currently with Toluca, while midfielder Pablo Parra joined Puebla this year.