Salcedo's path through MLS, Chivas and Serie A has him reaching next level
In Mexico, Carlos Salcedo is known as El Titan, a nickname he lived up to against the United States in Columbus, Ohio last November.
With 75 minutes on the clock, Christian Pulisic intercepted a surprise back heel pass from Mexico's Hector Herrera and took off. As the U.S. international neared the box, Salcedo threw himself onto the floor like a gladiator, tripping Pulisic as he was about to escape. The ball made it into the box, but Pulisic did not.
"For me [that game represented] the opportunity to win my place in the national team," said Salcedo in a telephone interview with ESPN FC. "As players, we set short-, medium- and long-term goals. [Winning a place with Mexico] was one of them and when you get it like I did [in Columbus], you don't want to mess it up."
Salcedo had come on in the 28th minute after midfielder Andres Guardado limped off injured.
"The games where you need to tackle hard, dig deep and keep fighting until the end are the type of games that appeal to me because that's where you can see the hunger that is in each one of us," said Salcedo.
Although Salcedo ended up receiving a red card toward the end of the match as Mexico carried a slim 2-1 lead, his defensive contributions were key. And in the time since then, he has gone on to start in two of the past three Hexagonal games, becoming one of the principal elements of Juan Carlos Osorio's squad.
To get to this point, Salcedo has lived in different parts of the world in order to enrich his football. Before joining Chivas in 2015, he made a name for himself in Major League Soccer with Real Salt Lake. His unique journey has allowed him to experience two different styles of football that help him stand out from the rest of Mexico's defenders.
"If there was something that made me stand out in MLS it was my ball handling," he said. "Over there, almost all defenders are 1.90 meters and up. So to see that at the early stages of my career, at 18, I had to learn how to use my body against tough players and how to take advantage against players that are bigger than you."
Salcedo went on to discuss his time in Mexico under Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and Matias Almeyda.
"It's different because they enjoy having the ball and every time we would face forwards who were physically strong, I didn't have a problem against them. I feel fortunate to have played in both leagues because the skills gained in Liga MX and MLS have helped me during my time in Europe."
In August 2016, Serie A side Fiorentina agreed to take Salcedo on a one-year loan from Chivas. For El Titan, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to go to a league where only a select few of his fellow countrymen, such as Rafael Marquez and Miguel Layun, have ever gotten a chance.
With Fiorentina, Salcedo has participated in the Europa League and played in historic venues like Milan's San Siro. And even though he's had a lack of playing time with the club during the second half of the season, he knows that every time coach Paulo Sousa has called on him to play, he hasn't wasted his chances.
"I've always been the type of footballer who likes to learn from every single type of situation. Sousa has helped me solidify my defensive skills," said Salcedo. "Defensively, the first step is to respond when you're in the defensive end, but when you reach the midfield, it's your responsibility to give the team a good start from the back. We have to give value to the ball because when you lose it it's difficult to recover it."
The skills acquired in Florence have transformed Salcedo into a multi-faceted defender capable of producing as a center-back and also as a full-back. In the March World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, for example, Osorio opted to use him as a right-back.
"It's something fundamental [to play in different defensive positions] and gives you a plus as a defender," said Salcedo. "I have always liked having the ball. It's something I've learned here [in Italy] -- to give value to the ball. Having possession of the ball is the best way to defend. I've learned a lot about this here, and each time I didn't get to play for my club, I'd do extra work in the gym to improve physical aspects, but always thinking on the ball."
Salcedo's skills on the ball have not gone unnoticed by Osorio, who is constantly finding ways to make Mexico's attack stronger. In the Mexico manager, Salcedo sees a person who is obsessive about the beautiful game. And as each camp passes, the team is more convinced by his ideas.
"[Osorio is] obsessive when it comes to reviewing the opponents we will play against," said Salcedo. "He watches one-month-old videos, two-month-old videos, or even three-year-old videos that show the beginnings of that team with its current coach. During training, he tells you which direction to take with your movement and which zones we must cover. The team has to believe in the coach's idea, and those who will benefit most are us -- the team. We have to pay close attention to what the coach wants in order for all of us to take that next big step for Mexican football."
Salcedo faces a busy June, which includes home qualifiers against Honduras and the United States, then a trip to Russia for the Confederations Cup. Among those matches awaits a meeting with Portugal and Salcedo says he is ready to take his chance against Cristiano Ronaldo.
"I have no fear in marking a player who's currently accomplishing a lot with his club and knowing Profe Osorio, not only Carlos Salcedo will be in charge of stopping Cristiano. I will just be a small part of it."
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.