Abella hoping Mexico Olympic success propels U23s to senior national team

Mexican soccer is living in the post-"siete cero" era after suffering a crushing 7-0 defeat to Chile in the Copa America Centenario. It's a time of reflection and re-evaluation.

In the midst of this process comes the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where Mexico will kick off on Aug. 4 against Germany. There is naturally pressure on the young members of the Mexico Olympic squad charged with defending the gold obtained four years ago at London 2012; another failure would provoke an additional wave of internal soul-searching about the direction of the Mexican game.

But along with the pressure comes opportunity, and that hasn't been lost on some of the players. Play well in Rio, demonstrate that you are ready for bigger things and Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio will surely consider giving you a call up, especially in the wake of the monumental failings of some of the established national team players against Chile.

This is a sentiment that Santos Laguna right-back Jose Javier Abella, who is expected to start at the Olympics, is buying into.

"I've said it before and it is important to reinforce: The way [us youngsters] have raised our voice in youth national teams and have won important tournaments is the only way we'll be considered for the full national team and at our clubs," Abella told ESPN FC.

Abella is not the most prominent Mexican player at the Olympics. The names of Hirving Lozano, Erick Gutierrez, Carlos Salcedo and Cesar Montes are likely to eat up more column inches. But the 22-year-old has started more Liga MX matches than those four and has the most top-flight appearances of any Mexico under-23 player heading to Rio.

Abella has won a Liga MX title (Clausura 2015), a Copa MX (Apertura 2014) and featured in the Copa Libertadores in 2014. At the national team level, he has moved up the age groups since the U17s, playing all of Mexico's games at the 2013 U-20 World Cup and representing El Tri everywhere from China to Russia and Northern Ireland.

Consistent would be the word to describe him; a balanced full-back comfortable in defense and going forward, he gets his head down, works hard and does his job. The approachable youngster ticks all the boxes when it comes to the type of well-rounded player Mexico and Liga MX clubs like Santos Laguna are trying to produce. In 112 Liga MX appearances, he has never been a sub. Additionally, he has only been subbed off on eight occasions and he has received a solitary red card.

In his own quiet way, Abella is one of the Mexican players to keep an eye on in Rio.

"The best way to describe him is a very smart player who can read the game very easily," Santos Laguna sporting director Jose Riestra told ESPN FC. "Also, he is humble and hungry. He's an excellent team player."

A bubbly character in the Santos dressing room, Abella also happens to be the second cousin of Porto and Mexico full-back Miguel Layun. They grew up together in the town of Cordoba in the state of Veracruz and are still close, watching each other's games when possible and dishing out advice.

"Of course I'd like to follow in the footsteps of Miguel," Abella said. "Any player would like to play in Europe, where the best football is played."

Abella is not aware of any interest from European teams at present, but Riestra says that there have been informal questions from scouts about whether a move to the other side of the Atlantic from Torreon would be a possibility for the young defender.

"We haven't received any offer or interest from a particular team, but I've been in Europe a couple of times and there are a couple scouts asking about Abella, asking if there is any chance of him going to Europe," Riestra said. "He also has a Spanish passport (from his grandparents), so that could help him. If he has a very good Olympics, I think he will receive a good offer from Europe. "

But would Santos let him go, bearing in mind that the flow of Mexicans to Europe has never been more than a trickle, partially down to the high wages in the Liga MX? Riestra suggests that the club is open to proposals: "If it is good for the club and it's good for Abella, I'm sure Santos will think it is a possibility for him to go out."

Abella cites the methods of Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha as being crucial in his development. Caixinha, a thorough student of the game, brought a different perspective to Mexican soccer in his time at Santos and handed Abella his Liga MX debut in July 2013.

"The fundamental thing was the way he lives games, the passion in each action ... it helped me a lot," stated Abella. "The training was always based on intensity and exercises with the ball. I learned a lot and will be eternally grateful."

Abella was one of only 16 Olympic-eligible (U23) players to start games this past weekend in the Liga MX. Whereas the feeling is that opportunities are limited for young Mexicans in their domestic league, especially with the new 10/8 rule (and the stats corroborate this sentiment), Abella has taken his chances and carved his own path, and is now urging other young Mexicans to prove themselves on the pitch despite the circumstances.

"I think the Olympics is a great tournament to show that there is good talent in Mexican football," he said. "In the [Liga MX] tournament as well, we have to show ourselves. The highest goalscorer has to be Mexican. The best player has to be Mexican. The defenders that stand-out have to be Mexican, the same with the goalkeepers. That is the way we have to act so the number of foreigners or those not formed in Mexico is reduced."

That debate will be likely be toned down, for now at least. El Tri is fully-focused on Brazil and Abella promises that fans will see a dynamic, attacking team in Rio.

The short-term goal for Abella and the rest of the squad is a gold medal, but this Olympic team goes into the Games with one eye on impressing Osorio and clamoring for a place in the new post-historic 7-0 defeat national team order.