Pavel Pardo was, simply put, one of Mexico's most consistent stars over the course of nearly two decades.
A product of Atlas' fabled youth system, where the lanky Guadalajara native started out as a combo left/center back, Pardo conquered at home and abroad, winning club titles in the Liga MX as well as the Bundesliga. Years later, he would be moved further up the pitch as a defensive midfielder, a move that tapped into Pardo's brilliant offensive mind and on-the-ball skills.
It's safe to say he was a constant with the national team. His 148 caps are impressive, and only trail Claudio Suarez's 178 for tops in El Tri's history books. Throughout thirteen years, Pardo played in two World Cups, placed twice at the Copa America, won three Gold Cup titles and was part of a fabled group that won the 1999 Confederations Cup.
With his fellow countrymen currently stationed in Brazil for this year's iteration of the Confederations Cup, most fans and media members are still focused on the pitiful performances El Tri has dished out at the World Cup qualifying level, where they have yet to pick up a win at the Estadio Azteca in three tries.
Even then, Pardo is confident that Mexico will stamp a return ticket to Brazil next summer and take on the world's best.
"I see Mexico at the World Cup. In most of the World Cup cycles that I've seen, it's generally cost Mexico to play against CONCACAF. When we go to Confederations Cups and World Cups, it's always different," Pardo told Goal via telephone interview.
He added, "Let's be real, Mexico is not the favorite (at the Confedations Cup). When you're not the favorite, the pressure is off and you play much more relaxed. I don't know why this happens, but we need to study it," the two-time Liga MX champion continued. "Against bigger teams, Mexico does better. I don't want to make less of CONCACAF, but against those teams Mexico seems to shrink."
Indeed, "shrink" might the perfect word to describe what has happened to Mexico after achieving great heights at the 2011 Gold Cup, mounting a fantastic comeback that launched the North American giants to their sixth title in 11 Gold Cup appearances. That particular match sealed the fate of outgoing US manager Bob Bradley, paving the way for the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann.
In two years of his own, Klinsmann has experienced the regular highs and lows that, according to Pardo, are usually overblown to create controversy.
"(Before the Costa Rica and Mexico games) Klinsmann was considered the worst, and now he's the best," Pardo said. "There needs to be a balance, people need to study not just if you win or lose, but how you win or lose. Sometimes, the press tends to launch people up into the clouds and then bring them back down to the basement. It shouldn't be like that," Pardo said.
Praising Klinsmann's approach and US Soccer in general, Pardo, a former member of the Chicago Fire, sees lessons in both MLS and the US Men's National Team that Mexico would be wise to co-opt. "They have a plan, they've followed through on it at the league and federation level, and it's yielding results. In Mexico, we have a 'now, now, now' mentality. They're doing it right," Pavel affirms.
Pardo's association of the Premier League and Bundesliga styles with what the USA is trying to accomplish is not a new concept, nor is the fact that Mexico's style models itself after its own colonizer, Spain. It is there where most Mexicans abroad have found success, including Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno, Giovani dos Santos and the ever-polarizing Carlos Vela.
On Vela, Pardo admits that a player of the Real Sociedad striker's caliber is a luxury and that he should come back to El Tri, but also criticizes the media's obsession with the topic.
"It's funny. When Carlos played for the national team, people would ridicule his level of play. Now, suddenly, he's the country's best player, he's the one everyone talks about," he said. "When I was with the national team, and I met both he and Giovani (dos Santos), I remember watching them closely. I walked up to them and said 'You two are different. You're the players Mexico needs going forward'. It's still true."
Despite Mexico's focus on developing young talent, a strategy that yielded both Vela and Dos Santos, Pardo wishes to keep the ball rolling, knowing full well that Mexico's well of talent is not close to being tapped.
"As the name implies, a national team. We can't rely on Carlos Vela. Mexico needs to produce three, four players of that caliber at least so that these things don't become an issue," Pardo said, before concluding with a statement that surely currently echoes around Jose Manuel de la Torre's brain.
"If Carlos doesn't want to come here, and I can't stress this enough, I don't know if he's the problem or something else is happening... then Mexico needs to find alternatives."
Pardo spoke with Goal on behalf of Budweiser.
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- Pavel Pardo