After the near disaster of 2013, 2014 was a year when the Mexico national team firmly got back on track. Having struggled painfully to make it to Brazil, Miguel Herrera’s charisma and tactics breathed fresh life into El Tri, leaving them just a late, and controversial, Dutch comeback away from making the quarterfinals of a World Cup for the first time away from home soil. But, with two big competitions ahead in 2015, there is little room for complacency.
Herrera certainly has his work cut out to achieve the objectives set out by the Mexican soccer federation (FMF). The focus of the year is the Concacaf Gold Cup, which Mexico need to win and then beat the United States in a playoff in order to secure a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup. But El Tri’s coach is also expected to reach the semifinals of South America’s Copa America, despite the fact that the competition finishes just three days before the Gold Cup begins and Herrera has already made it clear he will select two completely different squads.
The matches leading up to the two major competitions will be crucial then in helping to determine which players are meriting of a place in the expanded pool and which ones will go to each tournament. Those preparations will begin by taking on Ecuador in Los Angeles on March 28, before facing further South American opposition, in the shape of Paraguay, three days later in Kansas City. The following month, Mexico will have a friendly in name only when they renew their rivalry with the United States in San Antonio.
While the March fixtures are on official international dates, giving Herrera his full choice of players, the clash with the U.S. falls outside of the FIFA window, meaning both teams will likely be restricted to home-based squad members. Against the U.S., Herrera looks likely to try and finalize his second-string squad to take to the Copa America, which begins just two months later. Mexico’s first game in Chile will be against Bolivia on June 12, with the group stage of the competition also seeing El Tri take on the hosts and Ecuador.
Mexico finished 2014 with Herrera alternating between two lineups for pairs of friendlies. A victory away from home against the Netherlands, in which Carlos Vela made a starring return, showed the exciting potential for the first-choice lineup likely to be heading to the Gold Cup. But a defeat just a few days later to Bolivia featuring an almost entirely different set of players suggested there is still work to be done in terms of the depth of that playing pool.
That concern was particularly prevalent in defense, although the situation now looks healthier than late last year. Veteran leader Rafael Márquez has announced that he intends to continue with El Tri for the foreseeable future having been given fresh life following his move to Hellas Verona in Italy’s Serie A, and key man Héctor Moreno is back playing with Espanyol after breaking his leg during the World Cup. However, the predicament of 22-year-old Diego Reyes continues to be far from ideal, with the center-back yet to make a single league appearance for Porto this season.
It is playing time that is a growing issue for Mexico’s strikers. On paper, the talent at Herrera’s disposal is considerable. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Raul Jiménez are at two of Europe’s biggest clubs in Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, respectively, and Vela, arguably the most talented Mexican player, period, is now back in the fold after a more than three year hiatus from the national team. Meanwhile, there is still the experience of Oribe Peralta as well as emerging younger forwards like Erick “Cubo” Torres.
But there are issues with each. Hernández is playing with even less frequency than he was at Manchester United, and the situation is similar for Jiménez across Madrid. Vela, meanwhile, has just undergone surgery and is likely to still be missing when Mexico’s March friendlies come around. And, in Mexico, Peralta has hit a dry spell for Club América and Torres is being used from the bench while on loan back at Chivas from the Houston Dynamo.
There is little doubt that the talent is there, but Herrera has much work to do in order to fine tune squads capable of competing on two fronts this year and maintain the positive momentum of 2014.
Mexico 2015 schedule (confirmed matches)
March 28: vs. Ecuador (Los Angeles, LA Coliseum)
March 31: vs. Paraguay (Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium)
April 15: vs. USA (San Antonio, Alamodome)
June 12: vs. Bolivia (Viña del Mar, Estadio Sausalito)
June 15: vs. Chile (Santiago, Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos)
June 19: vs. Ecuador (Rancagua, Estadio El Teniente)
July 9: vs. opponent to be decided (Chicago, Soldier Field)
July 12: vs. opponent to be decided (Phoenix, University of Phoenix Stadium)
July 15: vs. opponent to be decided (Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium)