Mexico head toward a grueling summer after two 1-0 wins, recorded with two different teams and in very different manners. A somewhat unconvincing victory over Ecuador in Los Angeles at the weekend was followed up by a more encouraging win by the same score line against Paraguay at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium on Tuesday, as Mexico coach Miguel Herrera continues to build toward this summer’s Copa America and Gold Cup.
Herrera has revealed he will take two distinct squads to the continental competitions, meaning he has plenty to ponder ahead of the start of the Copa America, which is now just over two months away. Only a friendly match against the United States in two weeks’ time, when players from Europe won’t be available, stands before Herrera having to select his squad to go to Chile, and thus largely dictate the players who will go to the U.S. to try and wrest back the Gold Cup. Here’s what Herrera will have learned from these latest friendlies, as well as a reminder of El Tri’s upcoming schedule.
Ahead of these matches, there was plenty of concern over the state of Mexico’s attack. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández and Raul Jiménez had barely played this season in Madrid with Real and Atletico, respectively, while Carlos Vela and Oribe Peralta were unavailable through injury. But now Herrera’s only concern will be just how he decides upon which forwards go where this summer. Hernández showed few signs of rustiness, with a lively performance against Ecuador featuring a welcome first goal in 2015 for either club or country, while Jiménez linked up well with those around him three days later. On top of that, newcomer Eduardo Herrera also made his mark with a goal less than three minutes into his full debut against Paraguay to provide a further option.
With Vela, back in the fold and still arguably Mexico’s most gifted striker, and Peralta, the first-choice striker in last year’s World Cup, still to come back, as well as the added option of Giovani dos Santos’ creativity, there is much to ponder. It is likely that Vela will go with a first-choice lineup to the Gold Cup, but who goes with him remains in doubt. What can be said, though, is that Mexico should be in good hands up front at both competitions.
Dos Santos Stakes His Claim
Rather than Giovani, it was Jonathan dos Santos who left a big impression after this latest double-header. The 24-year-old has struggled to kick-start his international career since making his debut for El Tri in 2009, still having just nine caps to his name. Yet, now getting regular action in La Liga with Villarreal, he looks ready to become a regular presence. Playing in a slightly more advanced role than he is accustomed to, the Barcelona youth product brought assurance and quality to Mexico’s midfield against Paraguay. He did so as part of the side that appeared a dress rehearsal for the Copa America, and, despite his impressive display, it is still Chile where he looks likely to go.
Against Ecuador, the most impressive element of Mexico’s side was the work of Andrés Guardado and Héctor Herrera, who look all-but certain to start at the Gold Cup. Unless Miguel Herrera decides to trust in Dos Santos as a holding midfielder alongside that duo, then appears bound for the Chile. If so, Mexico can be assured that their second-string midfield is in good hands.
Reyes Calms Defensive Concerns
Undoubtedly the most anxiety about Herrera’s plans to field two different squads this summer has been caused by the prospect of having to find potentially 10 center-backs to fill out the berths in his 5-3-2 system. With experienced trio Rafa Márquez, Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez and Héctor Moreno unable to be reunited since the World Cup, the center-back depth had already been tested, and the results had not been positive, not least a 3-2 defeat to Belarus last November. But, while defense is still likely to cause Herrera most concern, these recent friendlies have provided some cause for optimism.
First, Moreno, El Tri’s standout defender, made his first appearance for Mexico since breaking his leg in last year’s World Cup. But there was also a much more assured display from the great young hope Diego Reyes. The 22-year-old’s career has stalled over the last year after barely featuring for FC Porto, and he showed all the effects of that lack of playing time in a shaky display against Ecuador, which culminated in a clumsy concession of a penalty. Yet, given the captain’s armband against Paraguay, he responded well, and suggested he could step up in the event Márquez doesn’t make it to the Gold Cup, or else be an effective leader of the backline in the Copa America.
Corona Moves Ahead
Much of the talk before these friendlies had centered on the battle for the No. 1 spot between the posts. There can be little doubt following them, that Jesús Corona has now taken a firm grasp of the position. Unlucky to miss out to Guillermo Ochoa at the World Cup after appearing regularly in qualifying, the Cruz Azul stopper was exceptional against Ecuador. Not only did he save a penalty, but he made several other big stops to keep the opponents at bay and preserve Mexico’s fragile advantage. Meanwhile, Ochoa didn’t even get a shot to make his own claim against Paraguay, after he returned to Europe to welcome the birth of his child. With Ochoa unable to get in the team at Malaga, Corona looks in prime position to be handed the responsibility of guarding Mexico’s net in the Gold Cup.
Mexico Can Compete On Two Fronts
Perhaps the primary take away, though, is that Mexico’s ambitious plans to compete on two fronts this summer is within their capabilities. While still caveats, there is a strong depth in quality in Mexico at the current time that should stand them in good stead, given that an exciting youngster like Jurgen Damm hasn’t even yet had a chance to make his mark. Winning the Gold Cup and earning a playoff with the United States for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup is the priority and will not be easy. But right now Mexico looks in better shape than their chief rivals, the U.S.
The competition will be tougher at the Copa America, and so it is far from ideal that Mexico will not be taking their strongest team. Yet getting through a group containing hosts Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia -- when the top two teams and the two best third-place finishers in the competition will progress -- looks within their means. Achieving the stated aim of a semifinal berth, though, may remain ambitious, with the possibility of Brazil or Argentina awaiting in the quarterfinals.
Mexico 2015 schedule (confirmed matches)
April 15: vs. USA (San Antonio, Alamodome)
June 3: vs. Peru (Lima, Estadio Nacional de Lima)
June 7: vs. Brazil (Location yet to be confirmed)
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. Cuba (Chicago, Soldier Field)
July 12: vs. Guatemala (Phoenix, University of Phoenix Stadium)
July 15: vs. Trinidad (Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium)