When it comes to quality young defenders, Mexico is stacked.
With that in mind, we thought we´d take a look at which defenders seem to have Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torres´ eye right now and which ones are itching to be given a chance to overthrow the old guard.
The players currently in favor
For now, the versatile Rafael Marquez brings a wealth of experience and leadership to Mexico´s defense, even if doubts remain about whether he can still cut it at the top level after not exactly setting MLS on fire at New York Red Bulls.
Stuttgart´s Francisco Rodriguez, 30, continues to shine in the Bundesliga and is one of the first names on the team-sheet for the national team these days. His height, presence and composure is vital to Mexico´s defense and in many ways he has been the country´s best export of recent years, even though the Sinaloense isn´t seen in the press as much as certain other exports.
Alongside the lanky “Maza” Rodriguez is Hector Moreno, another Mexican export that has steadily impressed on the other side of the pond at Español.
Finally there is Carlos Salcido, the former Fulham and PSV left back, who now plies his trade in the heart of Tigres´ midfield, but who Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torres continues to field in defense.
That quartet seems to be the core of experience in el Tri´s defense going into the World Cup Qualifiers, but there are many others nipping at their heels.
We take a look at six.
HUGO AYALA - Born: March 1987 (25 years old)
A champion with Tigres in the Apertura 2011, Ayala has made over 150 appearances in the Mexican first division and established himself at the heart of the league´s meanest defense.
Ayala, who debuted for Atlas in 2006, seems like he is next in line should Moreno, Rodriguez or Marquez lose form and is currently with the full Mexican squad.
The 25-year-old´s reputation was enhanced when he won the “best central defender” award for the Apertura 2011 tournament at Mexico´s Balón de Oro ceremony in January this year.
European clubs are circling, with Español, AZ Alkmaar, PSV, Marseille and Betis all linked with him in the Mexican press.
It´s no surprise, either. Ayala is a combative, all-action defender. The Morelia, Michoacan native reads the game particularly well and is rarely caught out of position. In fact, he´s not received a single red card in all his appearances in the Mexican league.
DARVIN CHAVEZ - Born: November 1989 (22 years old)
Sold from Atlas in May 2011 for a figure believed to be in the region of 3 million dollars, Chavez has made the left back slot his own at CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey.
Quick, decisive in the tackle and above all consistently solid, Chavez is set to start the Olympics in Mexico´s Under-23 team.
He´s not the type of fullback to be regularly galloping forward, making overlaps and drilling in shots and crosses, but he fits in perfectly at Monterrey, where his defensive discipline removes the burden of tracking back too much from more attack-minded teammates.
Chavez is known for having a good temperament off the pitch and comes from a family of football-lovers. His father works at Estudiantes Tecos.
NESTOR VIDRIO – Born: March 1989 (22 years old)
Center back Nestor Vidrio is dreaming of a move to Europe this summer and might well get his way, with Atlas desperate for money.
Teams in Portugal (said to be Benfica) and France are thought to be interested and keeping an eye on the situation of a player who spent last season on loan at Pachuca.
Vidrio is an intelligent, rock of a center back who was named club captain at Atlas last June, before being stripped of the armband three months later as the team started the season poorly.
The 1.78 meter tall player is excellent technically, comfortable on the ball and good in the air.
On the downside, he was caught up in the prostitute scandal ahead of last year´s Copa America and was one of eight players sent home from the tournament. Vidrio did face the press to issue an apology shortly after arriving back in Mexico.
His goal in the last game of the season against Club América – a right-footed strike from outside the penalty area – showed there is also depth to his game aside from defending.
JORGE TORRES NILO - Born: December 1989 (24 years old)
The Tijuana native appears to be the natural successor to Carlos Salcido at left back for Mexico. He already has 15 caps for the full national team and has become a regular in the squad.
Strong, tall and quick, Torres Nilo is rarely beaten in one-on-one situations and is more than handy bombing forward.
Another graduate of the Atlas youth academy, Torres Nilo was the voted the best fullback in the Apertura 2011 season at the Balon de Oro awards.
A move to Benfica this summer has been touted.
DIEGO REYES - Born: September 1992 (19 years old)
Club: Club America
Already a regular at one of Mexico´s “big two” clubs, Reyes is a defender with a touch of the regal about him.
A couple of mistakes at the end of the season shouldn´t take away from the fact that the youngest player in this list should be a future star of the Mexican game if things go to plan.
With excellent timing in the tackle, good reading of the game and a cool head at such a young age, Reyes is also versatile and can play at center back, right back or as a defensive midfielder.
The rumor mill says that Manchester United could be interested. At 1.90 meters, he should certainly have the physical presence to play in European leagues once he fills out.
HIRAM MIER – Born: August 1989 (22 years old)
Son of the bassist in grupero band Los Mier, Hiram took a different path than his father, thankfully.
Mier is the captain of Mexico´s Under-23 team and a regular for club side Monterrey, arguably the best team in Mexico.
Tottenham, Arsenal, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia and Villarreal are said to be sniffing around the player, who, after debuting as recently as October 2010, became an instant fixture for los Rayados.
Mier has displayed an on-field maturity way beyond his years and he has already featured in two CONCACAF Champions League finals, the Club World Cup and two Mexican league finals, winning one.
One of the nicknames he has picked up is “Cannavaro Mier,” after the Italian legend, although Mier has previously stated that Rafael Marquez is the player he most looked up to as a youngster.
Combining elements of Cannavaro´s sheer will and Marquez´s class, Mier has already achieved more in his career than most players. The challenge for him now is to succeed over the other side of the pond and displace older defenders from the national team.
Notable others: Hugo Rodriguez (Atlas), Nestor Araujo (Cruz Azul), Kristian Alvarez (Chivas)
By Tom Marshall (@MexicoWorldCup)
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