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Liga MX W2W4: Tigres-America tops crowded weekend

Liga MX
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Liga MX W2W4: Atlas on way to dubious record

Liga MX Bancomer
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 By Tom Marshall

Mexico's Ronaldo in prime form ahead of U.S. clash in U20 Championship

Ronaldo Cisneros has been the star of the CONCACAF U20 Championship so far, notching five goals in three group games.

When the Cisneros family was set to name their newborn son in early 1997, they decided to induce fate. The name the father came up with was none other than Ronaldo, inspired by the Brazil international striking phenomenon.

Fast-forward a little over 20 years later and the gamble has paid off. It turns out that Ronaldo Cisneros is pretty good. In fact, he is one of Mexico's best young talents, and the No. 9 will be leading the attack for El Tri's under-20s against the archrival United States on Monday in Costa Rica in a vital CONCACAF Championship matchup.

Santos Laguna's Cisneros has been the star of the tournament so far, notching five goals in three group games, and comes into the United States clash in the form of his life. Tab Ramos' side will have to keep him under control if its path to the under-20 World Cup isn't to be made very tricky.

"I'm conscious that I'm in a great moment and that I can still get better," Cisneros told ESPN FC from Costa Rica, an ominous warning for the Stars and Stripes.

A look at Cisneros' goals so far in the CONCACAF tournament gives you an idea of what the player is all about. Almost all of them have been one-touch strikes, demonstrating that innate ability that top strikers have of being in the right place at the right time. But it isn't like Cisneros has suddenly burst out of nowhere over the last week.

The 20-year-old -- who names Ronaldo, Hugo Sanchez and Raul Gonzalez as his playing role models -- has long been tipped for the top at Santos Laguna. He averaged a goal every 110 minutes of his U17 career and one every 155 minutes at the U20 level, including 10 in 10 games in the 2016 Apertura tournament.

Ronaldo Cisneros (right) didn't burst onto the scene out of nowhere -- he's long been tipped for the top at Santos Laguna.

Mexico's director of youth national teams Dennis te Kloese describes Cisneros as "physically good," "sharp in small spaces close to goal" and speaks highly of the Torreon native's work ethic and grounded mentality.

The next step for Cisneros is obviously more minutes at Santos Laguna when he returns to Mexico. He has only played in seven Liga MX matches since making his debut for the club in October 2014, and Mexican strikers are finding it increasingly difficult to get starts in first-division teams following the wave of foreign attacking talent to Liga MX in recent years.

"A lot is said about that because it is the reality," Cisneros said. "In general, the attacking positions are taken by foreigners in the majority of teams.

"Being in the national team and seeing my teammates, I'm convinced that Mexican players have a lot of talent," he continued. "I personally feel able and have a lot of drive to highlight the player that I am on the field. Whether I play is always the coach's choice, and I respect the decisions."

Te Kloese points out that it is games like the one against the United States and the final stages of this CONCACAF U20 tournament in which Ronaldo and the rest of the players can show themselves in order to raise their status at their club sides.

In that regard, Cisneros has already given Santos coach Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre a reminder of his talent in Costa Rica. But the business end of the tournament for Cisneros and his teammates starts Monday against the U.S., as Mexico continues its defense of the title it has won on the last three occasions.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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