Miguel Herrera will cast one eye firmly toward this summer’s Copa America with a much-changed lineup set to take on Paraguay in Kansas City on Tuesday. It has long been clear that reclaiming the Concacaf Gold Cup will be the priority in Mexico’s grueling summer schedule, with a first-choice XI set to be sent to the United States and a less experienced one traveling to Chile to take on South America’s best.
Honing two teams capable of competing continues to form the basis for Herrera’s preparations. From the strong side that beat Ecuador 1-0 in Los Angeles on Saturday, just one player, Diego Reyes, remains in place for the second friendly of the double header. It is a strategy that Herrera has employed since last summer’s World Cup, although with mixed results. In November, a second-string side lost 3-2 to Belarus. Trying to establish a depth of talent, while also building cohesion between the players on the pitch continues to be an issue, as was evident, despite victory, against Ecuador.
“This next game will help us a lot,” Herrera said in his pre-match press conference, according to ESPN. “Ecuador showed us the failures we have had in our preparations, things needed to address. We have to work a lot on these issues to reach the Copa America in good form.”
Since the Ecuador game, Hector Herrera and Miguel Layun have been allowed to return to their clubs in Europe, while Guillermo Ochoa and Andres Guardado have also left the squad as their partners prepare to give birth. In their stead, the team against Paraguay will feature three first-time starters. Melitón Hernández was not even in the squad until Ochoa’s departure, but the Club Veracruz is now preparing for his El Tri debut at the age of 32. Jesús Dueñas will also make his first appearance for his country in place of Paul Aguilar at right wing-back, while, after coming on for the final few seconds to win his first cap against Ecuador, Pumas’ Eduardo Herrera will start up front alongside Raúl Jiménez. And Herrera stressed that his latest call-ups are part of his aim to always reward those players currently performing at a high level.
“Since I took over the national team, I’ve always said I would try to call up those players in the best form at the moment, bring them into the team,” he said. “Obviously after a World Cup you have knowledge about many players and you start to have a base. I was only brought in six months before the World Cup, now I’m trying to get back to what I said at the beginning, calling up the players with the best form at the present time.”
Much attention will be focused on the defense. With Herrera’s 5-3-2 system, as many as 10 center-backs could be needed this summer, but finding that depth has been a struggle, especially with Rafa Marquez still unavailable and another experienced defender, Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez, also missing this time around. Against Paraguay, Reyes, who struggled and gave away a penalty against Ecuador, will line up alongside Oswaldo Alanis and Julio Domínguez.
Paraguay have endured a difficult recent period, having failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1994. They enter the friendly with Mexico at Arrowhead Stadium having won just one of their last seven matches, although they will now hope to build momentum ahead of the Copa America under a new coach. Argentinean Ramón Diaz, who achieved his biggest success as a coach at River Plate, also has experience in Mexican soccer, having spent a year in charge of Club America.
His first squad has seen some experienced players called back into the fold, not least Lucas Barrios. The 30-year-old former Borussia Dortmund striker has returned to form and prominence with French club Montpellier, and is back in the Paraguay squad for the first time in three years. After he and Paraguay drew a blank in Diaz’s first match in charge against Costa Rica last week, they will be hoping to find the net against a much-changed Mexico lineup.
Kickoff time: 9 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN2, Univision Deportes, UniMas