The United States contains a vast and sometimes unexplored talent pool, with millions of players competing at the youth level. Despite the various avenues to the collegiate and professional levels, there will be the occasional prospect who gets overlooked. After years of being under the radar and pushing for a chance, Jorge Ruvalcaba vaulted into Liga MX, enjoying immediate success. The 21-year-old dual-national attacker had a breakout Clausura season with Club Universidad Nacional (better known as UNAM or Pumas) and is looking to build on his progress.
Born in Rialto, California, Ruvalcaba played with the FC Golden State Development Academy. Described as a lightly-recruited “diamond in the rough,” he dominated the scholastic level with Colton High School, logging 60 goals and 15 assists his senior year, being named League MVP, First Team All-Conference, and First Team All-California Interscholastic Federation. After failing to receive a scholarship, the teenager began working as a packer in an Amazon warehouse.
Ruvalcaba was close to joining the Leganés academy, having trainedwith three different clubs in Spain. Instead, he committedto Cal State San Bernardino, a Division II program, following a gap year with the intention of studying engineering. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the season being canceled. According to ESPN, the attackerwas without a club and playing local cascaritas (informal friendlies).
“I played academy, in high school in California,” Ruvalcaba told RÉCORD. “Coming out of high school, I never had a scholarship to be able to continue. A year later it came out and I accepted it. Sadly, the pandemic came so I didn’t have the chance to play and I got very upset. I even had to think about not playing soccer anymore.”
In 2021, Ruvalcaba was scouted “among hundreds of young hopefuls” at a Los Angeles-based identification event, earning an invitation to trial in Mexico alongside other potential players. Continuing to impress, he joined Pumas Pumas in Liga MX and began competing with the youth sides. Despite being older than the typical prospect, coaches saw the potential for development. His impact at the U-19 level was immediate, racking up four goals and two assists on the way to winning the Caribbean International Cup, performances that drew the attention of the manager. Time in the U-20 reserve league yielded an additional nine appearances.
Thrust into the first team, Ruvalcaba made a strong debut on Opening Day of the 2022 Liga MX Clausura, a 5-0 victory over Toluca. He subbed into the match in the 68th minute, replacing fellow dual-national Sebastián Saucedo, and registered his first professional goal with his second touch, a mere 47 seconds after stepping onto the field. The winger chased down a long pass and placed his finish into the far corner from a tight angle, the third player in club history to score in his first appearance.
During his debut season, Ruvalcaba featured in 12 total matches while dealing with a minor back issue, as UNAM ended the Torneo Clausura at 11th place in the table and lost in the repechaje of the Liguilla playoffs. He scored two more times, against Mazatlán and Puebla. The first was a subtle, well-timed shuffle movement to beat the offside trap, latch onto a through ball, and finish to the far corner. The latter was a nifty sliding finish to put away a cross and secure a draw.
He is looking to build off a successful first season that featured a near miss at continental silverware. “Pressure in football will always exist,” said Ruvalcaba. “We have been working well as a team. Last season went very well for me. I hope it goes better. I arrived a year ago. Six months ago, we lost [the Apertura Liguilla] semifinal [at] Atlas, recently the CONCACAF final [to the Seattle Sounders]. Hopefully this season the title will come.”
During the summer, two Portuguese sides were reportedly interested in signing him, but the young attacker stayed in Mexico. Ruvalcaba, often called Joya (“Jewel”) by teammates and the media, began this season in the starting lineup, playing 89 minutes in the opener against Club Tijuana. He collected his first assist the following week, in a 3-3 draw with Club León. Due to an “ankle contusion and syndesmosis injury,” the club has been rotating through lineup options, but the 21-year-old appeared in the most recent two matches. European scouts continue to monitor his progress, as a transfer could be coming in the next few windows for the ascendent talent.
At the international level, Ruvalcaba is eligible to represent the United States and Mexico. He recently accepted a call-up to El Tri’s U-21 side, impressing at the 2022 Maurice Revello Tournament. The attacker made four appearances and scored against Indonesia, helping achieve a third-place finish. However, the country already failed to qualify for the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games, which is a general source of frustration.
Impressive young talent Jorge Ruvalcaba scores the second for Mexico with a great finish ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/6TCQXwFfOU— MexNexGen (@MexNexGen2) June 5, 2022
“I lived all my life in Los Angeles, but my family is from Michoacán,” said Ruvalcaba. “They have roots here and for them it is a great pride. When I debuted with Pumas and with the national team, they even cried with happiness. It makes them feel very nice.”
Ruvalcaba is a left winger but can also line up on the right and at attacking midfielder, possessing decent size at 5’11”. Described as “the most skilled player in the [Pumas] first team,” he is considered an excellent dribbler with good technique and elite speed. His best use appears to be in a counter-attacking style: running at or behind defenders and holding onto the ball for as long as necessary before making the decision to tuck a shot into the corner of the net or slip a pass to a teammate.
“He’s a forward that is very modern,” said writer Nayib Morán on the FUTVE English podcast. “He’s a guy that can move to the wings perfectly but also be central. [He has] a very high IQ… I think Ruvalcaba will finally get his opportunity to be the starter at Pumas… This is a real-deal type of forward. I do see a lot of potential in him. I think overall when I look at the U-21 list from Mexico, he’s probably on top of the list as one of the most exciting [talents] that [they] have.”
Less than a year ago, Ruvalcaba was a complete unknown, searching for the right opportunity. Now he is an emerging talent in Liga MX, attempting to climb the ladder in the club and international ranks. While his goal is to play with El Tri, situations can change and players will switch allegiances for many reasons. Perhaps his future leads to the USMNT, but the first priority is staying in UNAM’s starting lineup and increasing attacking production.