Tena to Lead El Tri Against Depleted USA

Under new manager Luis Fernando Tena, Mexico will face an ailing US side
by Brendan Doherty   |   Tuesday, September 10, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

After the disastrous 2-1 loss at home to Honduras, Mexico fired José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre and promoted his assistant Luis Fernando Tena.

Tena was at the helm of the Mexican teams that won the 2011 Pan-American games, the 2012 CONCACAF Pre-Olympic, the 2012 Toulon Tournament and the Gold Medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Before joining the staff of the national team in 2010, Tena did not enjoy much success in 15 years as a club manager in Liga MX.

And Tena will help lead El Tri against the United States in tonight’s affair from Columbus Crew Stadium.

History of the showdown in Columbus

In the 3 matches in which the U.S. has hosted Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium, the home team has come out 2-0 winners each time. During the last edition in 2009, Rafael Márquez delivered a spiked challenged to U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard which resulted in a red card for the then-captain but not before a whole bunch of pushing and shoving from players on both teams.

Since the inception of MLS, Mexico has not impressed heavily on the scoreline during the return fixtures either. Playing the U.S. at home in the Estadio Azteca used to regularly bring 3 or 4-goal scorelines for El Tricolor, but since the mid-1990s the results have been a 0-0 draw (1997), 1-0 win (2001), 2-1 win (2005), 2-1 win (2009) and the hard fought 0-0 draw earlier this year.

The game this year is huge for fans of Mexico also as it could deal another difficult blow to Mexico's chances at qualifying for next year's World Cup in Brazil.

In terms of this specific rivalry, however, if Mexico loses on Tuesday night it will be the 1st time they have ever lost an aggregate home-and-home series against the U.S. in World Cup Qualifying, meaning that Mexico has always earned the same or more points than the Yanks head-to-head during WCQ.

Adjusting to Torrado's suspension

A booking for Gerardo Torrado at home against Honduras means that Mexico will be without the bruising midfielder's services on Tuesday night. Torrado may not be a great player, as he lacks pace and passing ability, but he fit in well in the 3-man midfield that excelled against the Ivory Coast and in the 1st half on Friday night. Torrado was the anchor man in midfield who was always willing to make physical challenges. Fernando Arce was the workhorse who relentlessly ran from one 18-yard box to the other. Christian “Chaco” Giménez was the finesse player who would always deliver a pass whether he was being closed down in tight spaces or not.

With Torrado's absence, Tena will have to figure out how to configure his midfield. The 3-man midfield detailed above works well in a supporting role as in theory Torrado wins the ball, Arce runs 40 yards with it and then Chaco picks out an attacker with an inch-perfect pass. In reality, however, this set-up requires a quality and fully functional group of forwards that was missing in the 2nd half of the last match.

Ángel Reyna has been in sensational form for Veracruz in Liga MX but did not play particularly well on Friday night. Oribe Peralta has been similarly good for his club Santos Laguna but appeared to be a step or two off against Honduras. Giovani dos Santos was not awful but certainly improved his play when he shifted centrally from the right side. Having shown that he was match fit as a substitute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, if completely healthy, should start against the United States. The match is too important for Mexico to leave the world-renowned poacher on the bench.

Javier Aquino has been growing into a better player since his January move from Cruz Azul to Villarreal. He can deliver balls into the box but also showed an adept ability to link-up in tight spaces with Fernando Arce, right back Severo Meza and his club teammate dos Santos on Friday night. Aquino should earn the start on Tuesday and free Giovani dos Santos to play centrally.

Looking at Mexico's defense

Andrés Guardado's shift to a left back role with his club side Valencia CF has been praised in recent weeks. When Guardado plays on the wing for El Tri, he does not serve in consistent service, but rather attempts to cut in towards goal. This is rarely successful and wastes the runs his teammates have made into the area. I think playing Guardado as a leftback will allow him to play crosses in from a wide overlapping position or will open up space just before the 18-yard box into which he can run centrally for either a shot on goal or a diagonal chipped pass into a dangerous zone.

Carlos Salcido should be overlooked at left back because of his crucial error that led to the first goal for Honduras on Friday but Jorge Torres Nilo could be seen by Tena as a safe option.

Severo Meza did enough both defensively and pushing up in support of the attack to retain his starting position at rightback. Héctor Moreno has been the backbone of Mexico's defense and will yet again lead the team from the back. Moreno's partner is somewhat of a question mark after Diego Reyes struggled mightily in the 2nd half against Honduras. Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez could come into the starting XI to provide veteran experience against the U.S., but recently his experience has only been in clumsy fouls and costly mistakes.

Versatile young defender Hiram Mier also has an outside chance at breaking into the starting lineup, he doesn’t offer anything to the backline that other players have not already shown.

José de Jesús Corona will start again for Mexico as the country's best goalkeeper, Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, was not favored by Chepo.

Anticipated starters

Having sorted out the defense and attack, we're back again at Mexico's midfield. Depending on the exact lineup and tactical plan Tena uses, we could either see Jesús Zavala come in as a purely defensive minded player or see Héctor Herrera as a box-to-box option similar to Arce. As much as I'd like to see Mexico going all-out for this match, the US’ combination of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan is enough to necessitate playing a true anchor man in central midfield. Giménez will shift to wide left midfield but will tuck inside to accommodate Guardado's overlapping runs. This tweak allows Giovani to play as the second striker and stay around the box.

Corona; Meza, Reyes, Moreno, Guardado; Aquino, Zavala, Arce, Giménez; dos Santos, Hernández

No matter the starting lineup, tonight’s affair between the USA and Mexico will be one to remember for a very long time. Not only are the 2 sides preparing to add another chapter to the rivalry, but both are searching for the coveted 3 points to propel them closer to the World Cup in Brazil.


Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.