Mexico's European Stars Called Up

Miguel Herrera now has a chance to integrate El Tri's European-based players into his tactical setup during next week's friendly in Atlanta
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, February 27, 2014

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

Mexico has 5 friendlies scheduled between now and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil in June. Only the match-up against Nigeria in Atlanta on March 5 falls on a FIFA date, allowing players from European clubs to participate.

A number of players stood out in the most recent game against Korea Republic including youngsters Alan Pulido, Isaac Brizuela and Miguel Ponce. European based players are in bold while domestic players are in italics.

GK: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Moises Munoz (Club America), Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio)

DEF: Paul Aguilar (Club America), Miguel Layun (Club America), Rafael Marquez (Leon), Hector Moreno (Espanyol, Spain), Enrique Perez (Atlas), Miguel Ponce (Toluca), Diego Reyes (Porto), Francisco Rodriguez (Club America), Juan Carlos Valenzuela (Club America)

MID: Javier Aquino (Villarreal), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Giovani Dos Santos (Villarreal), Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen), Hector Herrera (Porto), Juan Carlos Medina (America), Luis Montes (Leon), Carlos Peña (Leon), Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon)

FWD: Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Alan Pulido (Tigres UANL)

The goalkeeper position is wide open at this point. Corona has a solid body of work in Liga MX and helped Mexico win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Munoz is a veteran leader and played on manager Miguel Herrera's title-winning Club America team. Guillermo Ochoa has the most impressive CV of any Mexican goalkeeper, boasting back-to-back Player of the Year awards at French Ligue 1 club AC Ajaccio.

Fresh problems in defense

First team spots at wingback, due in large part to the particular tactical nuances that Herrera expects from those players, are reserved for Club America players Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun. Given the recent shoulder injury that took Layun out of this past weekend's match against Pumas and Aguilar's relative experience with the national team, Herrera will see what others like Ponce or Perez can offer. Ponce showed well against Korea Republic and played a very similar game to Layun, but Perez is more of a stay at home fullback who doesn't suit the wingplay needed in El Tri's wide defenders. Andres Guardado may feature as a wingback, and he better suits his natural game than either the fullback position he's played recently at the club level or the attacking midfield role he unsuccessfully played for the national team in 2013.

There are also large question marks surrounding Mexico's central defense. Herrera has guaranteed his captain Marquez a place in Brazil, but the former Barcelona man has not impressed with his recent form for club or country. Marquez was noticeably off the pace against a weak Korean side and was responsible for a cheap giveaway that consigned Leon to a draw in Copa Libertadores against Bolivar.

Diego Reyes had a chance to play against Korea Republic even though Porto wasn't required to release him for the match, but the former America defender didn't take advantage of the opportunity. While he showed potential in glimpses, Reyes needs to showcase the maturity that Mexican fans have come to expect after the player's hype and promising European move.

Hector Moreno should get minutes anchoring this backline in order for the central defender to adjust to Herrera's system. Moreno is the best defender Mexico has and the most consistent performer for a current Mexican international in his European club career over the past few years.

Based on America's embarrassing rivalry defeat at home to UNAM Pumas, neither Juan Carlos Valenzuela nor Francisco Rodriguez should be anywhere near the Mexican national team at this point. Rodriguez reduced his team to 10 men after an early second half straight red card and Valenzuela failed to clear an easy long ball that then resulted in a goal for Pumas.

New options

Brizuela will get a chance to continue his good form from the Korea Republic match and recent games with Toluca. Herrera will use this as an opportunity to test the chemistry of his first choice players, with Conejito Brizuela perhaps now in that category. Herrera told the press on Wednesday that Brizuela is the best player in Liga MX at the moment and after his goal against Chivas at the weekend, it's hard to argue that point.

In the 5-3-2 system, Herrera likes midfielders who are dynamic but can still fulfill specific roles. This team needs a ball-winner, a box-to-box ball-carrier and a creative advanced attacking player.  Against New Zealand this combination was Medina, Peña and Luis Montes. While those 3 players will be available, Piojo will likely replace Medina with Hector Herrera for his height and replace Montes with red-hot Brizuela. Peña retains his starting role as the glue in midfield as other players settle in around him.

Up top, hat trick hero from the match against Korea Republic, Alan Pulido, may be the odd man out. Pulido likes to have the ball at his foot more than the other out-and-out strikers on this squad but this formation calls for a poacher. Giovani dos Santos has blossomed with Villarreal this season playing as a withdrawn forward and his club form means more than Pulido's strong performance against a weak Korean side.

Perhaps it was the ineffective tactics of Manuel de la Torre, but Mexico fans saw a lack of compatibility between Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernandez. These 2 players are too similar to play alongside each other and it's a toss-up as to which one starts. Hernandez has only played scarce minutes this season for Manchester United but Peralta failed to score in the current Liga MX tournament until week 8 in a heavy defeat at Leon.

Herrera certainly has his hands full when it comes to playing Nigeria, which is a historically-dominant African side that can make waves on the international front. It remains to be seen if these European players can make an impact and help rejuvenate El Tri.

NEXT UP: March 5 – Friendly: Mexico vs. Nigeria, Georgia Dome, Atlanta.  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.
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