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With only five weeks remaining in the 2019 Liga MX Apertura, it’s safe to say that it’s been a season of surprises in Mexico. The likes of Rayados and Chivas have been sore disappointments, while the likes of Querétaro and Necaxa have been pleasant surprises. But whilst surprises, for better or worse, have been the theme of the season, there have also been several realities confirmed.
One player who has solidified himself as the “real deal” has been Pumas right back Alan Mozo, who, after an exciting 2019 Clausura, has confirmed his status as one of the hottest prospects in Mexico.
When I say right back, I mean that with an asterisk at the end. Although Mozo starts as a right back in Pumas manager Míchel’s 4-4-2, he has been tried and tested in different positions by different coaches. Mexico’s U-23 manager Jaime Lozano played him as a wingback in a friendly prior to this summer’s Toulon Tournament, with Tijuana right back Vladimir Loroña playing as a central defender.
When I spoke to Mozo in Toulon about where he felt most comfortable on the pitch, he responded: “Wherever the coach plays me, I give my 100 percent. I like to attack and defend, but whether it’s as a wingback or as a fullback, it’s something I love to do.”
Mozo is an attack-minded right back, a player who gets forward with ease, who consistently arrives in the final third to chip in a cross, who can turn an opposing fullback inside out with his dribbling. However, it’s clear that he still needs to work on the defensive side of his game. His attacking nature means that opposing wingers can easily find space in behind him, even if he has the recovery speed to catch up with them.
Nonetheless, at 22 years old and with his contract expiring next year, Mozo has polished his defensive flaws this season. TUDN’s Robert Testas commented, “I’ve seen him take a step up in defense. Previously he didn’t convince me, but he’s improved this season. He’s learning how to cover the space in behind.
A native of Mexico City, the chilango headed north to complete trials at Pachuca in 2008, but he failed to impress their scouts and was rejected. It would be Pumas’ academy where he would develop the attacking prowess that has come to define his style, before making his first-team debut in February 2017 and later becoming a full-fledged starter for the Auriazules.
“When I was in Pumas’ academy, I played as a winger,” Mozo said. “I always liked to attack more than defender. I like providing assists, I like scoring goals, it’s something that I feel helps the team a lot and that I am very good at.”
Since he started playing at four years, Mozo only had one dream: to become a professional footballer for Pumas. Perhaps it was predestined; both of his parents graduated from the Faculty of Dentistry at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Pumas represent UNAM and play their matches at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, located on UNAM’s campus.
“It was difficult but he set his goal, he wanted to play at Pumas, that was his dream,” Mozo’s father Román said in an interview last December with Mediotempo. “He had to leave home and go live with his grandmother, stop going to parties and stop seeing friends to fulfill his dream. The day of his sister’s wedding, he almost didn’t attend it because he was focused on preseason. He’s sacrificed a lot, but this is his reward.”
After being turned down twice from Pumas’ academy, Mozo was finally accepted into the youth ranks at 16 years of age. He impressed so much with the feeder side that then manager Guillermo Vázquez called him up to play with the first team in their warmup friendlies prior to the 2015 Clausura.
Two years later, he made his official debut, and by the 2018 Apertura, he had consolidated a starting spot, earning the No. 2 kit number after first-choice Josecarlos van Rankin was sold to Chivas. Such was the level of his performances that Mozo was named in Liga MX’s team of the Apertura, with the club of his dreams finishing third in the table.
Mozo earned Jaime Lozano’s call-up for the 2019 Toulon Tournament and emerged from the tournament as one of El Tri’s brightest performers. Despite his costly penalty miss in the semifinal against Japan, Mozo showcased his talent throughout the tournament, starting from the first few minutes of their opening match against Bahrain. Mozo overlapped on the right flank with typical pizzazz, before sending in a delectable cross for Jairo Torres to head in.
All signs point to him playing in next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, but don’t discard the possibility of him becoming a regular for the senior team in the near future. He made his debut on October 2 in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago, and he could very well make his competitive debut in the Concacaf Nations League this month, either tonight against Bermuda or on Tuesday against Panama.
At the moment, América’s Jorge Sánchez and several others seem to be ahead of him in Tata Martino’s right back pecking order. But whilst Sánchez and Loroña are both younger, the rest of Mozo’s competition is considerably older than him. Fernando Navarro, Miguel Layún and Luis Rodríguez will be 33, 34, and 31, respectively, by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around, whereas Mozo will only be 25.
If he keeps improving at this rate, a starting spot for El Tri may no longer be a dream, but a reality.
Zach is a lifelong D.C. United fan and the creator of BreakingTheLines.com. Follow him on Twitter.