Pachuca's Erick Gutierrez proving to be a young Mexican standout
There is a strong group of players with Liga MX minutes under their belt that will be representing Mexico at the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand in a couple of weeks.
Morelia's Erick Aguirre, Queretaro's Orbelin Pineda and Pachuca's Hirving Lozano have all earned regular starts for their clubs and done well when called upon.
And considering the success of Mexico's youth teams in recent years, all will have scouts of European clubs watching on in New Zealand. But it is perhaps Lozano's teammate at Pachuca, Erick Gutierrez, who has most interest surrounding him at present.
Last Wednesday, 19-year-old "Guti" Gutierrez opened the scoring against Club America with a sweetly struck left-footed drive in Pachuca's 3-2 win in the Clausura quarterfinal first leg. On Saturday, Gutierrez will likely play in front of 80,000-plus as his team seeks to close out the series in the Estadio Azteca, before he jumps on a plane -- whatever the result -- to join the rest of El Tri's U-20 team in Australia, where it is preparing for the World Cup.
If Pachuca does go through, it would be a shame to rob the team of such a crucial element, but Gutierrez has all the necessary ingredients to be Mexico's standout player at the U-20 World Cup and it should be exciting to see what he can do in his own age category.
A box-to-box midfielder who can also play the holding role, Gutierrez has been unshackled slightly of his defensive duties at Pachuca this season under coach Diego Alonso and responded with five goals in the regular season, plus the one against America. And the golazo against Las Aguilas arguably wasn't even his best, with strikes against Morelia and Leon coming from outside the box also hinting at a midfielder who will produce at least his fair share of goals.
But it'd be a mistake to think the goals were anything but the cherry on top of the cake. Gutierrez's best feature is the way he controls his team from his central position, linking plays together using his technical ability and vision on the ball. His composure is also notable.
While not the most physical, he's not small either at 5-ft 8-in, and works well at Pachuca alongside midfield partner Jorge "Burrito" Hernandez, who buzzes around the field like a fly trapped inside a jar. In comparison, Gutierrez seems to work in slow motion.
Another player following in Mexico's all-time top scorer Jared Borgetti's footsteps from the traditionally more baseball-leaning western state of Sinaloa, the left-footed Gutierrez left home at age 12 to join Pachuca.
Opportunities didn't come immediately, and even Gutierrez thought about returning to his family, before he gradually began to become a fixture in the Under-17s team during the 2012 Clausura . From there, he captained the side to the title in the following Apertura 2012 title, scoring three goals over the two final games, before wearing the armband again as the team won consecutive U-17 championships.
Gutierrez debuted for Pachuca's first team on Oct. 2013 after only a handful of games for the U-20s and started the Clausura final second leg in May 2014 against Leon; since then he's been a fixture for Los Tuzos.
Although he'd never been in a Mexico youth national team before the U-20 level, Gutierrez is now very definitely one of the brightest young talents in Liga MX and will be hoping to impact Saturday's quarterfinal, before jetting off to New Zealand, where scouts will certainly be watching.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.