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 By Nayib Moran

Rodolfo Pizarro's decision to stay in Mexico paying huge dividends

Rodolfo Pizarro has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year at Chivas under Matias Almeyda.

MEXICO CITY -- There are those athletes that wherever you put them, in the pool, on the running track, on a basketball court, or on a football pitch, they'll always find ways to stand out. That certain athlete is a sports protégé, and when that gifted talent picks a sport, the rest is history. When he was young, Rodolfo Pizarro tried a series of sports, and in all of them, he found ways to stand out, but when it came time to pick one, he selected football. 

Today, he's Mexico's most gifted footballer playing in Liga MX, a league that has somewhere around 80 foreign forwards, and although the 23-year-old Pizarro was not brought up as a forward at Pachuca, under Matias Almeyda's watch at Chivas, he's suddenly become a goal poacher, capable of turning a simple play into a work of art. Deciding to stay in Liga MX and win titles with Chivas is one of the most important decisions made by a young Mexican footballer in recent times. 

Born in the northern Mexican city of Tampico, Pizarro's road to professionalism started when Angel "Coca" Gonzalez spotted him in a tournament. Gonzalez is well-known in Mexico because he's known as the scout who discovered one of Mexico's greats, Cuauhtemoc Blanco. "For Pizarro, there were like eight clubs who wanted him at the Benito Juarez Tournament. When I saw him play, I immediately called my contact in Tampico and told him, 'I need you to get Pizarro's dad on the line.' In 30 minutes I was already talking with him. I presented myself and told him that I had discovered Cuauhtemoc [Blanco].

"Right away I told him to come to Pachuca that next Monday because he wasn't going to play with the academy players, he was going to go directly into the U-17. I needed him to come with all the necessary paperwork because we were going to register him [with Mexico's Football Federation].

"Pizarro's career took off rapidly. In him, Pachuca invested like 200,000 pesos because he was like a year and a half with the youth teams. When he was 17 or 18, he was already playing in the first Division. They [Pachuca] say they sold him for more than $10 million," Gonzalez told the story of how Pizarro landed in Pachuca to Mexican newspaper Excelsior.

When he arrived in Pachuca, he was 17. By the time he was 18, he had already made his Liga MX debut. It was an electrical rise by a footballer who early on learned how to play in more than one position on the field. "In Pachuca, I started playing as a No. 10, then I played three games as a forward. But then in the Under-17s and U20s, I played as a right midfielder.

"I arrived at Pachuca when I was 17-years-old, and when I was 18, I made my [first division] debut", Pizarro elaborated on his early professional years to El Informador. "Now with Matias Almeyda, he puts me in various positions. I have that advantage that I can play in different positions, and when there's a special need in a certain area, I have no problem in taking over."

Last season in 14 starts for Chivas in league play and the Liguilla, Pizarro scored six total goals, but it was the two goals that he scored in the Liguilla that were the most important ones, especially after coming back from an injury that kept him off the field for many weeks. His performances against Toluca and Tigres showcased an element in his game that allows him to be a difference maker in critical moments. If we compare his actions when he won the 2016 Clausura with Pachuca to the ones he showed in the 2017 Clausura with Chivas, there's a visible mature aspect to his game that makes him look and feel important.

Rodolfo Pizarro is bound for Europe eventually but was wise to put it off for now and mature in Liga MX.

"I want to have more continuity than last season," Pizarro told Univision Deportes a few days ago. "Last season I couldn't play for seven games, so I need to be in better shape, and that way I can avoid injuries. I want to perform better than last season, maybe finish with more assists and goals.

With just three games gone in the Apertura, Pizarro is eyeing an emphatic season and already has two goals and an assist to his name. He has directly participated in all of Chivas' goals.

When Chivas announced Pizarro's signing in late 2016, Marc Crosas, a world football connoisseur who has played for Liga MX sides -- Santos Laguna, Leones Negros and Cruz Azul -- gave his opinion on the move to ESPN Digital. Crosas said: "I think that it's good for Mexican football, and it's also good that young players don't only think about heading to Europe.

"It's good that there are players that want to succeed in their own country before making the jump to Europe. It's good that clubs like Chivas, Tigres, Monterrey, Cruz Azul, Leon and Pachuca and many others support Mexican young talents and invest money in the national players. I feel that it's good [Pizarro's transfer to Chivas], and it helps Mexican football grow in some way."

Crosas was right on in his statement, especially in the part "players that want to succeed in their own country before making the jump to Europe." In a league where several teams have more than the nine foreigners each club is allowed to have on a game day roster, Chivas winning last season's title was refreshing. What Almeyda has brought to the club has not only deeply impacted the fan base but individuals like Pizarro, who are still honing their skills. 

Liga MX allows Pizarro to compete each week with many talented players coming from South America or even Europe, and in order to be regarded as the best in the league, he has to directly compete with the likes of Lucas Zelarayan, Dorlan Pabon, Cecilio Dominguez, Nicolas Castillo and Andre-Pierre Gignac and prove why he's the best.

Pizarro is on record saying that he wants to make the jump to Europe at the age of 23. Sitting beside the manager that gave him his debut, Hugo Sanchez, Pizarro opened up on his dreams in 2016. The likelihood of seeing him move to Europe in the Winter Transfer Window is minimal, but next summer his time might come. However, he'll be heading to Europe with silverware, and why not? As Liga MX's best player.

Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.

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