Close to 90,000 fans are expected when Mexico takes on Ecuador in a friendly international match at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night. The match is the latest step in the Mexican national team’s preparations for a grueling summer in which it will compete in both the Gold Cup and Copa America. With Concacaf’s championship, the Gold Cup, beginning in the United States just three days after the conclusion of South America’s showpiece event, for which Mexico is a regular invitee, Mexico coach Miguel Herrera has made it clear that he will take a different squad to each event.
To prepare for that unusual arrangement, Herrera has been rotating his team's lineup between back-to-back friendlies since last summer’s World Cup. And he has made it clear that policy will continue when Mexico follows its match with Ecuador by taking on Paraguay in Kansas City next Tuesday.
“I'm looking for the integration of all the players, from the new ones to those returning to the national team,” he said in Los Angeles earlier in the week, according to ESPN. “We'll have two games with different [starting] teams. We want everyone to understand the idea.”
So far there have been clear first-choice and second-choice lineups selected, and Herrera has said that he plans to take the stronger team to the Gold Cup. While the aim is to at least make it to the semifinals of the Copa America, winning the Gold Cup is the clear primary objective. Doing so would earn Mexico a playoff with the United States to decide which of the Concacaf teams goes to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. The match acts as useful preparation ahead of the following year’s World Cup.
For these friendlies, the stronger 11 is set to be fielded against Ecuador, with Herrera having named a lineup that features seven members of the team that kicked off the 2014 World Cup against Cameroon. With fellow World Cup starters Rafa Marquez, Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez and Oribe Peralta all ruled out, the most intriguing change is in goal, where Jesus Corona was chosen over Guillermo Ochoa. Despite a starring role in Brazil, Ochoa has yet to play a single league game since joining Malaga last summer.
Still, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has been chosen in attack, despite not starting or scoring for Real Madrid in 2015. At the back there is an opportunity for Tigres defender Hugo Ayala to impress in what has been a problem position for El Tri of late, alongside the returning Hector Moreno and Porto’s Diego Reyes.
With a non-European-based squad set to take on old rivals the United States next month, the upcoming two matches have been arranged with more a serious emphasis on the Copa America. Indeed El Tri will take on Ecuador in Group A of the competition, along with hosts Chile and Bolivia, both of whom Mexico have played since the last World Cup.
“Ecuador has a fast team, with skills on the ball as well,” Herrera said, according to Goal.com. “[Playing teams with] these kind of qualities are going to serve us really well comparing them with Chile. They're teams that split the field well and play very similarly to our Copa America opponents.”
Ecuador will be hampered by the absence of star Enner Valencia. Formerly of Liga MX club Pachuca, the striker has enjoyed an encouraging first season in the Premier League with West Ham United, but has been absent with a bizarre injury suffered when stepping on a broken cup. Still there are several players in the Ecuador clubhouse who are likely to be familiar to Mexico fans. Among them is Valencia’s former Pachuca teammate Walter Ayovi -- always a threat with his delivery into the box from left-back -- and striker Fidel Martínez, who has hit five goals in nine games for Leones Negros in the Clausura.
Kickoff time: 9:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN2, Univision Deportes, UniMas