Following the completion of a World Cup, a popular tradition is to make projections for the roster at the next competition, typically populated by holdovers and a few well-regarded prospects. However, these speculations typically and understandably overlook the off-the-radar talents who emerge over the four-year cycle. One potential option is Mauricio Isais, who has been a revelation in Liga MX, winning last fall’s Apertura title. The 21-year-old Pachuca left back received a call-up from Mexico, but his international future remains uncommitted.
Born in Brownwood, Texas, Isais played with the Monarcas Morelia youth setup and East Forsyth High School in North Carolina. His performance at a regional Sueño Alianza combine earned an invitation to the 2017 National Showcase and garnered attention from “more than 10 different” parties in the United States and Mexico. He elected to join the Pachuca academy in 2018, which included assignment to the U-20 squad in the third division and training with the first team. The next year, the defender went on loan to Club León for 18 months and made two league appearances, described as “quick, skilled on the ball, and interesting.” However, his pathway to increased minutes was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and a packed roster.
His mentality helped him adjust quickly to the professional level. “Regarding discipline, I was always quite disciplined.,” said Isais. “[I go out] when it’s with friends or when it’s someone’s birthday, but not every day. It’s something that I bring from Pachuca, that schedule. What to eat, that has been something. It’s also very important without sugar. I learned that, in terms of nutrition, I think I’m better than I was before.”
After returning to Pachuca, Isais stuck mostly with the reserves, with left back largely occupied by Daniel Alonso Aceves. He made his first-team debut late in the Clausura campaign, starting and playing 82 minutes in a 2-1 victory over FC Juárez, helping maintain a spot atop the regular-season table. His cross found winger Bryan González, who converted for the match-winning goal.
This current season has been a breakthrough, as Isais immediately claimed the starting left back position in the Apertura opener following Aceves’ season-long loan to Real Oviedo. He played in 16 out of 17 matches and registered an assist with a perfectly-angled cross in a 4-1 victory against Toluca. In addition to having the second-most completed dribbles on the squad, his combination of interception, recovery, and defensive duels statistics were among the league’s best.
His strong run of form continued into the Liguilla (playoffs), playing every minute over six matches. In the first leg of the final against Toluca, Isais leapt above the crowd on a corner kick to drive in a header, extinguishing the opponents’ hope of a comeback and helping Pachuca claim a seventh domestic championship by an 8-2 aggregate margin. ESPN praised him as a “revelation,” noting his “ability to make dangerous runs while also providing crucial tackles in the back,” tagging him as a future star and a part of the club’s strong young core.
Following the World Cup’s extended international break, the 2023 Clausura began in a similar manner to the previous competition. Pachuca defeated Puebla by a 5-1 margin, with Isais starting and playing all 90 minutes. At his current trajectory, he is being tipped for a transfer to Europe, perhaps in the near future.
“At just 21 years of age, it’s exciting to see what else the left-back from Texas will achieve in the new year,” writes Cesar Hernandez. “Well-balanced in both his defensive and attacking responsibilities, Isais has a high ceiling as one of the more promising talents in Mexican soccer. By the time the summer rolls around, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a European club sign the young Mexican-American.”
At the international level, Isais is eligible for the United States and Mexico. The latter program’s former manager, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, named him to the roster prior to the World Cup as a “sparring partner” and included him on the match-day squad for a friendly against Iraq. He claimed to be “very happy” and viewed the invitation as a potentially “very beautiful and unforgettable experience.” However, the dual-national failed to appear in the 4-0 victory, leaving the door open for a future call-up from the USMNT, with a tug-of-war rumored to be brewing between the rivals.
Mauricio Isais is a 2001 LB who started 22 of 23 games for Liga MX champions Pachuca. 21 years old. He was in Mexico's "sparring" camp just before the World Cup. https://t.co/sCv2gvBRyZ— Justin Moran (@kickswish) January 10, 2023
A traditionally-minded left back standing 6’ who can also play at a few different midfield positions, Isais operates mostly out of his own half and occasionally drifts centrally for a dribbling run or long-range shot. His ventures into the final third tend to be productive with accurate diagonal crosses taken ahead of the box from zone 13. He wins over half of his aerial duels and works hard to dispossess the opponent, constantly outjumping opponents and claiming headers in the box. One-on-one defending is an asset, rarely letting wingers past him, forcing a turnover or a backwards pass.
Over the next three-and-a-half years, the USMNT will win and lose recruiting battles for dual-national players, with everything ultimately evening out in the end. Having already participated in a camp with Mexico and competing in Liga MX, Isais may present more of a challenge among uncommitted prospects. As his profile continues to rise, competition for his future will increase, both at the club and international levels.