After kicking off its 2015 schedule with a victory against Ecuador in Los Angeles, the Mexico national team continues will continue its preparations for a busy summer when taking on Paraguay in Kansas City on Tuesday. Miguel Herrera’s side beat Ecuador 1-0 on Saturday night thanks to Javier “Chicharito” Hernández’s goal, but the charismatic coach is now set to field a much-changed lineup for the second match in quick succession against South American opposition.
The alternating lineups is all part of Herrera’s plan to compete on two fronts this summer. After June’s Copa America, Mexico will head straight into the Gold Cup, with Herrera already making it clear that he will select two different squads for the continental championships. The stronger lineup will go to the Gold Cup, which Mexico need to win in order to secure a playoff with the United States for the right to play at the Confederations Cup in 2017, with a second string heading to Chile to take on South America’s best. It is the latter which will be seen on Tuesday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Herrera selected his strongest lineup against Ecuador, and will be left with both encouragement and much to ponder from victory. Hernández’s goal and general performance demonstrated that he retains his sharpness, despite not starting a single game for Real Madrid in 2015. With Carlos Vela -- ruled out with injury for these matches -- now back in the international fold, there is strong competition for places up front. Against Paraguay, Atletico Madrid’s Raul Jimenez, another to get limited playing time this season, is set to get a chance to impress.
It was in midfield that Mexico perhaps looked strongest on Saturday. Veteran Andres Guardado and the ever-improving Hector Herrera of Porto displayed both astute passing and dynamism, but both have now returned to Europe, with Guardado expecting the birth of his first child. They are not the only players to leave the squad, with Jesús “Tecatito” Corona and Guillermo Ochoa also unavailable for the match with Paraguay.
It is a particular blow to Ochoa, who now faces a major fight to regain his spot as El Tri’s No. 1 goalkeeper. Despite a hugely impressive World Cup last year, he has yet to start a league game for Malaga this season, and watched on as his chief rival in the Mexico setup, Jesús Corona, put in a superb performance to thwart Ecuador, including saving a late penalty. In Ochoa’s place, Club Veracruz goalkeeper Melitón Hernández has been called up.
Mexico’s opponents are also preparing for the Copa America, and have just started their rebuilding under a new coach following their failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Former River Plate boss Ramon Diaz took over last December, and began his tenure with a goalless draw away at Costa Rica last Thursday. Diaz has previously spent a year coaching top Mexican side Club America, and he has also selected a squad featuring seven players from Liga MX. Among them is veteran Cruz Azul, and former Manchester City and Malaga, striker Roque Santa Cruz.
Prediction: While there were positives to take from the performance against Ecuador, the big concern was again at the back. Only Corona’s heroics prevented Ecuador getting on the score sheet, with the display of Diego Reyes showing all the effects of such little playing time at Porto. There are likely to be further defensive problems against Paraguay, when Herrera will field his second-string lineup. The last time that happened, Mexico struggled in a 3-2 defeat at Belarus last November. Still, they could be given a reprieve by a Paraguay team that has scored just four goals in their last six internationals. If the defense can keep Paraguay fairly quiet, then Mexico have some exciting talent going forward that could give them a win.
Predicted score: Mexico over Paraguay, 2-1