Questions Remain for Herrera and Mexico

Is Mexico better off without Carlos Vela? How well will Miguel Herrera integrate non-domestic talent into his team? Who makes the cut for Brazil?
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, February 06, 2014

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

At this point, 4 months out from the World Cup, there are very few certainties with the Mexican Men’s National. El Tri manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera, always a straight forward speaker, has told media that he will be playing his 5-3-2 system in Brazil and that Rafael Márquez will captain the team for his fourth World Cup.

After Márquez, no player yet has a guaranteed place in Piojo's team. Players will have a few opportunities to impress the coach between now and June; a match against Nigeria in March and a match at the end of May against Ecuador, along with rumored matches against the United States in April and a send-off match against Portugal in the Boston area on June 6. Only the match against Nigeria falls on a FIFA date, which would be Herrera's chance to introduce European-based players to his system.

First thing's first: Carlos Vela will not play for Mexico in the 2014 World Cup.

After weeks of teasing statements to the press from both camps, the Real Sociedad forward stated on Monday that it would not be fair for him to take a spot away from someone who has been committed to the qualification process. Herrera was obviously not impressed by Vela's level of dedication, a key factor in Herrera's selections, but the striker has not ruled out a return to the fold after the World Cup.

Finding the right defenders

Herrera has solidified the role of Márquez in his team but the defense with Diego Reyes and Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez did not look solid against Korea Republic on Jan. 29.

Speed is certainly not the reason Márquez is in this team. Márquez is the quintessential "locker-room guy" and has one of the most successful careers of any Mexican player in history (12 trophies during his time at Barcelona). 3 World Cups and 2 UEFA Champions League finals provides the basis for his big-game experience and Piojo sees Márquez as his leader on the field.

In order to provide cover for Márquez in a 3-man central defense, Piojo needs to select more dynamic defenders around the captain. Diego Reyes can fit that bill but has only been playing for FC Porto's reserves since leaving Herrera's América in the summer. Reyes may have some of the physical attributes to complement the veteran Márquez, but the youngster needs playing time to develop the mental aspects of his game.

Márquez covers the experience that Maza Rodríguez may offer and while he is capable of an occasional wonder-strike from 35 yards out, he also coughs up dangerous opportunities from preventable mistakes in his own end. Whether playing for the national team or for Club América, Maza always seems one poor tackle away from throwing the game to the opposition, like the penalty he gave up in WCQ in Honduras or his red card challenge in the Liguilla final against León.

Hector Moreno is the most talented defender Mexico has in the player pool, but the question is how well he can adapt to Herrera's system.

The Europeos

Piojo traveled to Europe over the weekend to meet with Mexican players abroad. Apart from his headline grabbing talk with Vela, Herrera spoke with Moreno and his Mexican coach Javier Aguirre on Monday before traveling to Villarreal to speak with Giovani dos Santos and Javier Aquino on Wednesday.

Ajaccio's star goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, Porto's promising midfielder Hector Herrera, and recently transferred Andres Guardado may also be on Herrera's social calendar. Guardado's loan deal to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga could prove vital for the former Atlas winger. Guardado had been playing primarily as a left back for Valencia and his attacking intent could make him an option as a wingback for the national team.

Miguel Layún has been starting on the left side of the 5-man defense but is also capable of playing up the right flank. Sacramento, Calif., native, Miguel Ponce impressed as the left wingback during the match against Korea and even provided service to Pulido in a fashion similar to Layún's many crosses for Peralta against New Zealand.

Herrera is looking for a group of players who are not only in form but can excel in the 5-3-2 setup. While he could undoubtedly benefit from a very attacking formation that creates service from wide areas and through the middle, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has not played enough recently to prove his form.

The forwards at Piojo's disposal

At this point Oribe Peralta is Mexico's best forward; Chicharito has not been playing nearly consistently enough to unseat Peralta. The diminutive forward has featured in only 547 of a possible 1890 minutes for Manchester United while he has been healthy this season, including just 4 starts.

Giovani could play as a second forward in this lineup, but Herrera will likely employee his dynamism in a midfield playmaking role if another forward can match Peralta's intensity on the field.

Alan Pulido's hat-trick performance in his debut against Korea has squarely inserted the young forward into the picture for Brazil. Alan Pulido pushed himself from being a bench option for Tigres UANL a year ago, to a starter for Mexico's World Cup warm-up matches.

I hope there is a bit of club and personal bias in Piojo's decision-making to ensure he includes Raúl Jiménez. Jiménez's club form was rocky during the Apertura, but he has the potential for a spectacular contribution like his chilena for the national team against Panama.

Aldo de Nigris is on the outside of the national team picture looking in after Chivas de Guadalajara suffered an atrocious Apertura 2013 campaign.

Did Pulido do enough to move third in the pecking order behind Chicharito and Oribe? Perhaps, but he'll have to show consistency for Mexico over the friendly matches between now and June.

The 3-man midfield in Herrera's system requires players with specific skillsets and the complexion of the midfield will depend on the resolve of the defense and creativity of the forwards.

NEXT UP: March 5 – International Friendly: Mexico vs Nigeria, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga. 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN.

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.
BRENDAN'S SPONSORS