Mexico’s complex summer became a little clearer when coach Miguel Herrera revealed his Copa America squad last week. But plenty of questions remain just over three weeks before El Tri kicks off in Chile against Bolivia.
With the Gold Cup following on almost immediately from South America’s championship, Herrera has elected to form two almost entirely separate squads, with only FC Twente’s Jesus Corona set to play in both events. And the names laid out to travel south for the Copa America next month leave no doubt that the priority is very much on regaining Concacaf superiority and earning a playoff with the United States to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup. Still, while Herrera looks certain to keep faith with his favored 5-3-2 formation, just how the team will line up, particularly in Chile, remains in doubt.
Here’s an attempt to predict how El Tri will look both at the Copa America and in July’s Gold Cup in the United States.
There were two main talking points to come out of the Copa America squad announcement. First there is the goalkeeper situation. Jesus Corona, for the second straight summer, has been effectively relegated to No. 2 behind Guillermo Ochoa. In front of him, though, there will be plenty of experience, with Rafa Márquez -- Mexico’s captain at the last four World Cups -- surprisingly named to go to Chile rather than the Gold Cup. It is easy to see the rationale behind the decision, given the lack of international experience elsewhere among the defenders. Alongside the veteran could well be 21-year-old Carlos Salcedo, who has come from almost nowhere to be a fixture for Chivas and earn his first cap against the U.S. last month. The other center-back position is likely to be filled by Julio “Cata” Domínguez, who has been a regular in what were essentially the B sides Herrera has been fielding in alternate friendlies since the last World Cup.
With the wing-back roles to be taken by two of Gerardo Flores, Adrián Aldrete and George Corral, in the holding midfield position the momentum would seem to be building around Javier Güemez over Juan Carlos Medina. Further forward, while “Tecatito” Corona is in the running, the fact that he plays in a wide role for his club could mean that the more attacking midfield roles are taken by Luis Montes and Marco Fabián. Montes cruelly missed out on the World Cup last year with a horrific injury ahead of the tournament but has been brought back into the fold in recent matches. Fabian, meanwhile, has what it takes to be the star of the squad. The 25-year-old has long had the potential to excel at a high level but is now showing signs of realizing that ability, not least when scoring a wondrous hat-trick for Chivas against Atlas at the weekend.
Fabián will be charged with supplying the ammunition for front pair Raúl Jiménez and Eduardo “Lalo” Herrera. For Jiménez, the task will be to quickly find his sharpness after a season of frustration on the bench at Atletico Madrid, while Herrera will be aiming to continue the fine start he has made to his late-arriving international career.
D: Flores, Dominguez, Márquez, Salcedo, Aldrete
M: Montes, Guemez, Fabián
F: Jiménez, Herrera
The Gold Cup lineup is easier to forecast with Herrera having an established core of players since last year’s World Cup. Ochoa has been given the backing in goal despite not making a single appearance for Malaga in La Liga this season, and it will now be Diego Reyes, rather than Márquez who takes his place alongside Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez and Hector Moreno in the center-back trio. Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun are established as the first-choice wing-backs, with the latter -- fresh from promotion to the Premier League at Watford -- offering the more attacking threat.
In midfield, it is likely to be the same trio that kicked off the tournament in Brazil, with José Juan Vázquez holding and Andres Guardado and the ever improving Hector Herrera offering more attacking thrust. And up front one of the places will in all probability be taken by Carlos Vela. The former Arsenal youngster will be playing in his first tournament for Mexico since lifting the Gold Cup in 2011, having ended his self-imposed international exile last year. He won’t, though, be coming into the competition in the greatest of form, with injury contributing to a record of just one goal in the last four months for Real Sociedad.
To Herrera’s undoubted delight, the man likely to partner Vela, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has been getting minutes and looking sharp of late. After a frustrating season with Real Madrid, the striker on loan from Manchester United has grabbed the chance afforded to him by injuries at the Bernabeu in recent weeks. Vela and Hernandez should get the nod over Giovani dos Santos, who has been struggling with form an injury at Villarreal.
D: Aguilar, Rodríguez, Reyes, Moreno, Layun
M: Herrera, Vázquez, Guardado
F: Hernández, Vela