Herrera's Debut Showed Good and Ugly Glimpses

In Miguel Herrera's first match in charge, Mexico 4-2 but looked weak in defense
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, October 31, 2013

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

Miguel Herrera is now the fourth head coach to lead the Mexican national team in its last five matches.

Significant speculation has been bubbling in the media recently based on comments from Herrera that perhaps Mexico don't need to call in European based players for the upcoming playoff series with New Zealand.

While some have seen this as an insult to the Mexicans who play their club football in Europe and have not performed to the expected level with the national side, Herrera has stressed that travel distance from Europe to Mexico to New Zealand makes their inclusion difficult.

Match against Finland

Under a different system and playing in a different formation, the Mexican Men’s National Team showed a new attacking style on Wednesday night, but it is far from being a finished product. Though El Tri ran out 4-2 winners against Finland in Qualcomm Stadium, the defense gave up two very soft goals and a better team will be able to exploit that weakness.

Club América wingbacks Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún saw a lot of the ball in this formation but, unlike previous Mexico squads, didn't dawdle in possession. The most striking difference in the way Mexico played under Herrera was the squad's directness. In addition to the occasion long ball over the top of the defense, Mexico routinely routed the ball out wide to then be crossed into the area quickly.

Aguilar and Layún, or whoever was filling in outside, did not usually try to cut into the area but rather stayed wide and played in several types of service with minimal touches on the ball. Although some balls from both flanks lacked a high level of quality, forwards Oribe Peralta and Raúl Jiménez were able to win a majority of balls in the air. While it might not have succeeded, the players in wide positions knew what they were supposed to do within seconds of receiving the ball and this kept Finland on the back foot for most of the game.

Goal highlights

Luis Montes curled in a free kick from distance with his left foot in the 10th minute. Rafael Márquez did well to lose his marker Jarkko Hurme and easily nodded past advancing goalkeeper Sillanpää to give Mexico the lead.

Capitalizing on an extended period of attacking momentum, Carlos “Gullit” Peña scored in the 23rd minute after quality midfield build-up. Peña played a pass into Luis Montes who picked out Peralta playing with his back to goal. Peralta saw Peña continuing his run and played a brilliant weighted pass into Pena's path. The Leon midfielder smacked his shot first time and watched it sail into the goal past Sillanpää.

Shortly after halftime, Peralta nabbed a goal for himself. Peña played a short pass to Aldo de Nigris who laid the ball off to Peralta outside the area. The Santos Laguna striker took a touch with his right foot before unleashing a shot that deflected off the back of a Finnish defender and nicked the bottom of the crossbar on its way in.

Minutes after entering the match, young forward Jesús Escoboza added Mexico's fourth with a true poacher's goal. Replays show Escoboza was a half-step offside but he quickly latched onto a ball knocked through the defense and tucked his shot just inside the far post with his left foot in the 64th minute. The veteran of the U-20 World Cup earlier this year, Escoboza was the only substitute to make a meaningful contribution for Mexico in the second half.

Mexico's goals against each came from embarrassing defensive errors. Three Finnish players were completely unmarked inside the area on the rebound to a free kick. One player was able to pick up the loose ball and find a teammate without any defender putting up a challenge. Finland's Hurme then buried his shot in the back of the net to pull Finland back to 2-1 at 28 minutes.

Finland's second goal showed even less competence from Mexico's backline. Márquez flopped near the corner flag after minimal contact from Tim Väyrynen. While Mexico's captain was lying on the ground, Väyrynen carried the ball inside and played a cross towards his onrushing teammate. Before the ball could get through for the forward, Juan Carlos Valenzuela inadvertently knocked the ball past José de Jesús Corona into his own net in the 55th minute.

Looking ahead

It's become a cliche at this point: The result wasn't bad, but Mexico needs to play better when it counts.

In the postgame on-field interview, Club América goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz told ESPN's John Sutcliffe, in remarkably good English, that the team played according to the gameplan set out by Herrera. Mexico got out in front of the game and dictated the pace early. He did admit that the team “[has] to be a little bit more careful” on the defensive side of the game after letting in “goals that maybe we shouldn't have given up.”

Despite the major lapses in defense, this Mexico team was able to score 4 goals. Even though it was a friendly against Finland, a four-goal performance is important for a team that only managed 7 goals in 10 matches in the Hexagonal. The ability to score goals in this new formation and style of play under Miguel Herrera underpins Muñoz's confidence that Mexico can get the job done against New Zealand. Herrera echoed this sentiment, saying in his post-game press conference that he is happy with the group of players he has and that the team shows clear ideas in attack having adapted quickly to his tactics.

NEXT UP: November 13 – WCQ Playoffs: Mexico vs. New Zealand, Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico. 3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, Unimás, UnivisionDeportes.com.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
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.
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