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Cantera Dreams: Kevin Escamilla talks debut, Mexican National Team

Kevin Escamilla made his Liga MX debut for Pumas on April 19 against Santos Laguna. Photo: Club Universidad
Kevin Escamilla made his Liga MX debut for Pumas on April 19 against Santos Laguna. Photo: Club Universidad

Two weeks ago, one of Mexico’s brightest young midfielders achieved a pretty big milestone in his young career. Kevin Escamilla, at just 21 years of age, made his first team debut, getting the start against Santos Laguna on April 19.

In an exclusive interview with Pumas English, Escamilla shares his thoughts going into the game against Santos, highlights some of his biggest moments in his career, discusses Pumas’ current state, and talks about several of his upcoming goals.

“An enormous joy,” is how Escamilla describes his Liga MX debut against Santos.

According to the official Liga MX website, Escamilla has played in 150 games for Pumas, amassing more than 5700 minutes throughout his time in the club’s youth system.

“It’s the reward for all the work I’ve done during my life, during all the training, the sacrifices I’ve made,” he says of his debut.

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He recalled the emotions leading up to the game. “Everything came to mind, my family, my friends, ever since I came to train at the cantera at 14 years old. It all came back, and I felt a lot of joy.”

Growing up in a youth system marred by recent administration changes has had it’s challenges, both for the individual players, and for the Pumas organization. The club has failed to maintain consistency in the league over the last few years, and few players from the academy have broken through to the first team. But Escamilla says it’s the day to day things that are the real challenges for a young player pushing towards a professional career.

“Each weekend playing games, travelling to distant places on bus can be draining, for example. International games as well, not seeing your family, there are many sacrifices. Missing parties, not seeing friends, having to watch what you eat. All of that has come together for me to get me to where I am now.”

Escamilla (right), champion in 2011 U-17 World Cup.
Escamilla (right), champion in 2011 U-17 World Cup.

Back in 2011, Esamilla played on one of the world’s biggest stages for a young footballer. Mexico was host for the U-17 World Cup that year, and Escamilla was a staple in Mexico’s lineup. He played in all seven games – all seven wins – for Mexico, and earned the starting spot in Mexico’s midfield against Uruguay in the championship game. That dynamic team lifted the World Cup trophy, and Escamilla was a big part of their success.

“I played the final in front of about 110,00 people. It’s something that I’ll never forget,” he says.

The stage for his debut may have been different, but Escamilla says it holds an equal place in his heart.

“I think it’s a similar situation, due to the pressure that exists,” he says. “Those have been the two biggest moments of my career.”

Those moments are just the beginning for Escamilla. With a handful of youth tournaments coming up, Escamilla is focused on consistency with his club performances in hopes that will continue to keep him in Mexico’s plans as he moves up the system.

“Before anything else, being selected to the National Team youth system is an honor,” Escamilla stresses. “It’s a gift for the effort you do for your club team.”

On an international level, Escamilla has his goals set out in order and knows what’ll take to seem them through.

“My aspirations right now is dedicated to the Pan American games in July, the pre-Olympics are coming, and another dream I have is to be in the Olympic games that will be in Rio de Janeiro next year. We have to continue to work as we’ve been doing, and more than anything else, stay patient and humble.”

One of the biggest stories of the year has been the emergence of one of his fellow canteranos, Eduardo Herrera. Pumas English spoke to Herrera in November, and talked about his aspirations to break into the Mexican National Team. Now that Herrera has earned a call and could potentially be included in one of the rosters for the 2015 Gold Cup or Copa America, he’s become an example for the younger generation at Club Universidad as well.

“It’s like opening the doors,” Escamilla says of his teammate’s recent success with Mexico. “I think if a Puma is with the National Team, it means we’re doing things right as a team.”

Escamilla was also quick to point out Pumas are not extinct from the National Team scene, evidenced by several of his teammates recently included in U-22, U20, and U-17 camps.

Herrera is one example of success at Pumas since the return of head coach Guillermo Vazquez. Since his return just under a year ago, Vazquez has opened the door to the younger players below,

Pumas famous training grounds, La Cantera.
Pumas famous training grounds, La Cantera.

making way for three debuts thus far. Jesus Gallardo, Omar Islas, and now Escamilla have debuts, earned playing time, and appear to be big pieces of the club’s future.

“He motivated me,” Escamilla said of Vazquez. “He changed the way I play, taught me to be more dynamic, more defensive as well.”

“His return helped us,” he added. “The club was in a bad streak, he came to bring us up. I think the results can be seen right now.”

Although Pumas are performing better under Vazquez, they are still struggling to cement their place among the best in Liga MX, and reclaim the performances one of the “big four” command. Escamilla blames a poor start for this season’s current position in the standings, and he’s not far off considering Pumas have only lost one game in their last seven.

The one thing that has to improve to get Pumas to the top where they belong? “Consistency,” he states clearly. “The last tournament we finished well, it was more at the beginning of this tournament that was difficult due to self-made mistakes. I think we let too many points escape at the beginning of the season.”

“Today we’re recuperating, and we have two finals and have to play to the death,” he says of the two remaining games of the tournament that will determine if they make the liguilla.

Aside from the team’s objective of getting the best of their opponents in the remaining two games, Escamilla also has his personal goals as he pushes his way further into the mix.

“Right now, I think it would be to win the starting position,” he says of his next short term goal. He adds emphasis on Pumas making the playoffs and him experiencing his first liguilla as well.

What would his ideal year look like? “To begin as the starter, have a great preseason and play the maximum minutes possible. To play the pre-Olympics and win, and then the Olympics, and be a champion with Pumas.”

Escamilla, like most young soccer players, ultimately has aspirations to play in Europe one day.

“Of course,” he says about the desire to one day play overseas. “But first I have to do a great job here. My mind is right here, focused on doing a good job and becoming a champion [with Pumas].

“I characterize myself as a true Pumas player,” Escamilla says about his love for his club. “It’s my second home. My everything.”