At this point in World Cup qualifying, with the tournament proper barely 12 months away, Mexico manager Jose Manuel de la Torre would surely have preferred to have more of his country’s U-23 players competing for places in the senior team.
But when El Tri took to the field against Jamaica in a crucial CONCACAF encounter on Tuesday, only one player in that age category who had started the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal match against Brazil was in his first XI.
That player was Diego Reyes, and at 20 years of age the central defender is poised to star at the upcoming Confederations Cup.
Tall and agile, Reyes will still add a few more pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame over the next few years, but the intangible qualities that separate a great defender from the good ones—confidence in the air, strength in the tackle, a good first pass—are already evident in his play, and against Jamaica he took the opportunity to showcase them.
Twice he did ever so well to lunge in front of Garath McCleary shots from close range, and at times—while Mexico struggled to create anything through the middle—his long through-balls were his side’s only meaningful bit of buildup that didn’t go down the flanks.
These qualities are why Porto signed a pre-contract agreement with Reyes back in December, and after the Confederations Cup he’ll complete his €7 million move to the Portuguese champions.
It may end up being a bargain for them.
In Reyes’ final club match in Mexico he won the 2013 Clausura with Club America, and his winners’ medal added to a trophy cabinet that already included silverware from the Pan American Games, Toulon Tournament, CONCACAF U-20 Championship and Olympics.
His appearance against Jamaica represented just the second time he had started a match for Mexico in World Cup qualifying, but based on his performance he won’t be coming out of the side anytime soon.
And Mexico, who might have been an outside contender for World Cup glory had more of their players come through the ranks, will look increasingly to the one who did as their identity shifts from an attacking, free-scoring outfit to one that rarely gives up a goal.