Finding positive signs on the horizon for the Mexican National team requires no investment of hope or exaggeration. The recent successes of the U-17, U-20, and mostly U-23 Olympic squad point to a bright future. The emphasis on the youth ranks has contributed to a class of young Mexican players that not only possesses great skill but has also been instrumental at the club-level. Diego Reyes and Hector Herrera have been locked down for summer transfers to Porto. Javier Aquino made the jump to Villareal in Spain. More are sure to follow.
Despite a great number of talents, some of whom have already begun making their mark with the senior national team, there’s one that stands out (despite having only one cap). Twenty-one year old, Raul Jimenez is not a player who has the ability to make a dramatic impact on the national team today. But Jimenez does have the ability to become that player.
No sport or its fans are immune to the allure of size. From basketball talking heads endlessly raving about ‘wingspan’ to baseball scouts falling in love with the physicality of a hitter, size can mess with people’s judgments. It can make you forgive many other faults and overlook true abilities that will either make or break the career of a prospect. Raul Jimenez has size. He’s tall (6’ 3”) without being lanky (any longer). He’s the type of player that catches your eye among the crowd for his imposing physical presence. Jimenez uses size to his advantage, surely. He can out-muscle opponents to find his spot and utilize his height to rise above them.
Yet, Jimenez is not completely reliant on his size. He possesses great passing ability and awareness of his teammates. While not a technical passer, or even a primary one, he works well in distributing. Jimenez currently plays a recessed striker role, where his running mate, Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez can more than speak to Jimenez’s ability to provide a great ball. He pairs this with a deadly ability to finish. His range knows no limits and his shooting strength holds few rivals among his Mexican peers.
Potential can be both fleeting and elusive. It’s simple to see potential, but to see it come to fruition is much rarer. The pace at which potential can evaporate can rival a Jamaican sprint team. So, when it’s found and has the capacity to bloom it must be nurtured. Such is the case of Raul Jimenez. He has so much potential, but it is still very much just that. He is a good player that can become a great player. He has pace, size, shooting ability, and ball control. But he has yet to be tested at the highest levels. Playing for Club America he often receives the best opponents can throw at him, but he has yet to earn his chops in the playoffs. He has yet to step on to the field for El Tri in a harsh environment needing a win. He’s unproven.
While there isn’t a gaping hole in the starting roster of the national team that Jimenez needs to fill, a place can clearly be found going forward. Mexico is probably best served proceeding with a solitary striker set. The abundance of dynamic, playmaking midfielders makes going with that formation the logical choice. De la Torre has recently preferred going with a 4-4-2 formation with Chicharito and Oribe Peralta up top, which has been met with limited success. Peralta’s knee injury has forced him out of the Mexico roster this time and should force the move back to the 4-2-3-1 formation with Chicharito as the lone striker. Yet, if stubbornness prevails, could Chepo use Jimenez in place of Peralta? It’s unlikely. But a case could be made that the partnership that Jimenez could form with Chicharito could mirror the one he has with Benitez at Club America. However, the most likely and probably the best scenario, is giving this partnership a run for the final twenty minutes of the match. Perhaps, the ascendency of a striker of Jimenez’s skill set will finally start to make the 4-4-2 look like an attractive option. Perhaps.
Raul Jimenez does not need to be inserted into the starting eleven for El Tri now. He’s likely not ready for that. It is, however, important for Mexico that he begins to earn his place in the side. Using him in limited minutes in different rotations would be greatly beneficial. Investing heavily in his future could pay great dividends for El Tri when it matters most.