Mexico is a country with a great wealth of soccer talent, this much is certain.
How it's teams ranks against its neighbors to the south is not, though. Mexico is usually forgotten by South American club tournament organizers and doesn't have a chance to showcase its top clubs.
The trend has actually been changing for a few years but Mexican teams are now included in the top South American club tournaments. For three years, Mexican teams have played in the prestigious Copa Libertadores tournament.
This year, four Mexican sides are playing in the Merconorte tournament. The teams -- Chivas, Necaxa, Toluca and Pachuca -- have a chance to strengthen the notion that Mexican teams should be included amongst the hemisphere's elite.
America and Atlas took the Mexican game to a new level with their successful Libertadores showings.
Early results have been favorable for Mexican sides. Toluca routed Peru's Universitario, 4-1, despite the absence of several top players. Chivas drew at home with America de Cali of Colombia. Then, Chivas fought back from a 2-0 second-half deficit to beat Estudiantes of Venezuela, 3-2. Chivas leads Group B after two games.
Merconorte, though, is not as high-quality as Copa Libertadores is. For instance, there are no Argentine or Brazilian clubs in it. Nevertheless, Mexico needs strong showings from their teams in this tournament. Sure, Toluca won't be able to play River Plate or Corinthians, but a victory of the Mexican champions against the Costa Rican champs (Alajuelense) or the Colombian champs (America de Cali) would be a great accomplishment.
While those four Mexican clubs battle out in the Merconorte, another five are attempting to do the same in the Copa Libertadores.
America, Atlas, Pumas, Atlante and Cruz Azul are playing in a the five-team Pre-Libertadores tournament. The teams are currently playing in a tournament to decide who will advance to the next round.
This tournament, and the Merconorte for that matter, will be a rigid test for the teams. Not only must they play midweek games, typically those games are far from home. For instance, America will play Cruz Azul and Pumas will face Atlante in Los Angeles. The four teams are from Mexico City.
Also, the Mexican winter tournament is underway. Coaches must make decision on who to play and who to rest.
The teams who advance will be the ones who have the depth to handle this rigorous schedule. Of the five teams, America has the deepest bench. Cruz Azul, Pumas and Atlas all are youthful sides. Atlas proved last year it could handle the hectic three-games-in-eight-days schedule.
The upside to advancing is tremendous: the opportunity to compete in one of the world's best tournaments. The teams who make it will certainly have earned it.
America came out firing in its league opener, beating Morelia 4-3. Although the team showed its firepower, it also proved it isn't quite a championship-caliber team yet.
Frankie Oviedo was impressive in his debut, scoring twice and creating defensive mismatches. The lanky Colombian will be counted on for goals and perhaps even leadership.
Oviedo, though, cannot replace Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Nobody can. Blanco was undoubtedly America's engine. When the team needed a lift, he provided it. When a player needed encouragement, he gave it. And when the team needed a goal, he often scored it. Oviedo will no doubt score many goals for America but he cannot provide the intangibles that are Blanco's legacy.
The role of playmaker now falls squarely on the shoulders of Fabian Estay. The midfielder scored on a 30-yard laser against Morelia and has long been considered a keen passer. He must take his game to a higher level this season, though, if America are to contend for the title. Jose Luis Calderon, Jesus Mendoza and Oviedo are relatively new to America. Estay must keep the forwards together.
America will receive a strong boost to its chances of a title when the Major League Soccer season ends. Luis Hernandez recently signed a three-year contract with America and will join the team when the Galaxy's season ends.