Mexico will make its final preparations for a vital Gold Cup when taking on Honduras in at NRG Stadium in Houston on Wednesday. It has been a packed and difficult summer for coach Miguel Herrera having seen the “B” squad he took to the Copa America dumped out at the group stage, while he also found himself in hot water for some ill-advised political tweets. It means he goes into the Concacaf championship under pressure to deliver the title which would bring a playoff with the United States for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup.
But Herrera’s problems only continued in Mexico’s first warm-up match against Costa Rica on Saturday. El Tri’s best defender, Héctor Moreno, was forced off at halftime in the Orlando friendly and it has since been revealed that he will need to have foot surgery that will rule him out of the Gold Cup.
But with that cruel blow could come an opportunity. In the first half against Costa Rica, Mexico’s midfield was badly outnumbered as Herrera attempted to fit the attacking trident of Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos into the team without sacrificing his favored three center-back formation. A 2-0 half-time deficit was, if anything, kind to Mexico. But Moreno’s exit was part of a formation shift that led to a much improved second-half showing and a 2-2 draw that would have been a win if not for a wrongly disallowed goal.
And Herrera will now heed long-time calls for him to switch to a 4-4-2 formation from the start against Honduras, although he has stressed that at the moment it only constitutes further experimentation. It is perhaps not ideal to still have such doubt over his lineup just eight days before Mexico kicks off its Gold Cup campaign against Cuba in Chicago. But it means there is plenty on the line for those players involved against Honduras.
That is particularly true for Carlos Vela. The Real Sociedad striker made a big impression after returning from international exile late last year, but after an injury-disrupted end to the season in Spain he offered little against Costa Rica and was withdrawn at halftime. He will get another chance alongside Hernández on Wednesday, but, with Dos Santos waiting on the bench, he will have to be on his toes.
And there will be another opportunity for Carlos Esquivel to stake a claim to be a surprise starter in the Gold Cup. The 33-year-old winger impressed after replacing Vela against Costa Rica and will line up against Honduras on the opposite flank to Andrés Guardado.
At the back, meanwhile, there is much to prove in a new system and without the presence of Moreno. The pressure is on the young Diego Reyes and veteran Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez to form a solid partnership, while Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar will need to show that they can handle more defensive responsibility as full-backs rather than wing-backs.
And, while it is only a friendly, there could well be a desire for revenge from El Tri. Honduras inflicted just the second ever World Cup qualifying defeat for Mexico at the famed Azteca stadium as part of what was a miserable 2013 for El Tri.
Honduras would go onto qualify for its second successive World Cup, but endured a disappointing time in Brazil, losing all three matches. The turmoil continued after the tournament when coach Luis Fernando Suárez resigned, only for his replacement, Hernán Medford, to fail to see out the year after a poor series of results. Honduras subsequently turned to Jorge Luis Pinto, the man who led Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the last World Cup. And the pre-Gold Cup results have been satisfactory with a 2-0 win over El Salvador being followed with a 2-2 draw with Paraguay and narrow 1-0 loss to Brazil.
Kickoff time: 9:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN2, Univision Deportes, UniMas