Tecatito Corona could be Mexico’s next star by August

In a single minute, the face of Mexico’s Copa América squad became 14 years younger. When veteran Rafa Márquez, the most renown player on El Tri’s Copa roster, went down with an injury in Mexico’s first group match, there was no question who’d assume his spotlight. Midfielder Jesús “Tecatito” Corona, fresh off winning Man of the Match in Mexico’s morose 0-0 draw against Bolivia, was ready to stare into the eyes of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sánchez and the rest of the stars adorning the home team’s newspapers in Chile. The 22-year-old had another chance to add to his newfound legend..

It’s partly because Mexico is holding its best players out of Copa América, saving them for the Gold Cup later this summer, but the Hermosillo native who didn’t even go into the season as a starter with his club has become a legitimate star. In fact, he’ll be there at the Gold Cup with stars like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Hector Moreno – the only Mexican player to head to both tournaments this summer.

That he’s allowed to do so is because his club, Dutch side FC Twente, is in a bad financial situation and eager to offload as many players as possible. Getting Tecatito into as many shop windows as possible can only help. But it’s also good for Miguel Herrera. The Mexico head coach can take advantage of the speed, creativity and ball control in tight spaces Tecatito provides.

Herrera was asked before the tournament if Mexico’s attack is too reliant upon Tecatito after the youngster provided nearly the only threats in friendly matches against Peru and Brazil. Corona is important, the manager said, but Mexico isn’t overly dependent on it.

“He shouldn’t be the only player to carry the team,” Herrera said. “Also there is Marco Fabián, Luis Montes or Javier Aquino.”

But the fact that the Mexico boss is yet to hand any of those players a start in Copa — or, in the case of Fabián, play a single minute — shows that, despite the manager’s insistence, Mexico needs Tecatito to succeed if the team going to succeed.

His move to the Europe at the age of 20 was a surprise in itself, with most Mexicans sticking around as long as possible as wealthy Mexican clubs pay cushy salaries to keep young stars at home. But while he had featured for Monterrey’s first team since turning 17, Tecatito blazed something of a different path. That’s partly because of the big-money offer Twente was willing to put forth, but it’s also the player’s choice to take the risk of going to Europe, something most Mexican players don’t do until much later. After standing out at the 2012 Club World Cup, Corona accepted a move to Europe in the summer of 2013.

He’s reaped the benefits of that decision. At the most basic level, Tecatito had to do things other Mexican youngsters simply don’t have to do, beginning with fighting for a spot on his club side. The Mexican initially struggled with injuries upon arrival and had to regain his fitness with Twente’s second side. Several Dutch soccer experts said he had to overcome a reputation for being lazy, but Corona eventually worked his way into the first team squad. In time, Tecatito made it clear to manager Alfred Schreuder that he was was worth of a spot in midfield.

Mexico's goalkeeper Jesus Corona walks on the pitch during a training session in Santos, Brazil, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Mexico will play in group A of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)AP

Mexico's goalkeeper Jesus Corona walks on the pitch during a training session in Santos, Brazil, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Mexico will play in group A of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

His nine goals in 27 Eredivisie starts — more than any other Mexican playing in Europe, including players like Chicharito, Carlos Vela and Raúl Jiménez — drew Herrera’s attention in a way some playing outside of Mexico have struggled to do. He also had the most dribbles completed in the Dutch league and has continued to go at players in the Copa América, setting up a number of scoring chances including the corner kick that lead a Jiménez goal against Chile.

If Tecatito’s quick ascent continues, it could inspire more young Mexican players to eschew sticking around for more cash. Instead, more talented young players could head to Europe to become better developed and eventually earn the glory that comes with being a Mexican national team star.

Until then, the legend of Tecatito continues to grow, with more Copa América matches still ahead and the looming chance of an even bigger breakthrough at next month’s Gold Cup.