Mexico Searches for Points in WCQ

After a setback against Jamaica, Mexico needs to get a result in Honduras
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, March 21, 2013

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

Mexico's definite starters won't depend on the formation in which Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre lines up El Tri, whether it is his 4-4-2, the fan-favorite 4-2-3-1 or a more defensive 4-5-1.

An injury to national team regular Oribe Peralta means Chepo won't send out his favored 4-4-2 with the same personnel. Because Mexico couldn’t beat Jamaica in Estadio Azteca in the last match, the team can’t afford to walk out of San Pedro Sula without a point. Whatever changes may occur, some players are still certain to start in Honduras on Friday.

Projected starters

The first name on Mexico's team sheet, as he has been for the last few years, is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Manchester United's diminutive striker has had to battle Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie for playing time, but always seems to make the best of his chances. Chicharito's special goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup shows yet again how resourceful he can be with his head despite his size.

Another sure thing in Mexico's squad is Espanyol central defender Hector Moreno. The 25-year-old is the team leader who organizes the backline and has played 6 of the 7 matches in this qualifying cycle. Though he has had some bumps along the way, Moreno is developing into a world class central defender at the other team in Barcelona.

Former Club America golden boy Guillermo Ochoa has been shining in goal for AC Ajaccio this season. The French club's 27-year-old goalkeeper missed the last WCQ match against Jamaica for the birth of his child, but his strong play will earn him the start over Cruz Azul's Jesus Corona on Friday I’m sure.

Andres Guardado has been a key player for Mexico down the left flank for years. He has had a few dips in form since transferring to Valencia, but his natural ability to play out wide with the skills to beat a defender coming inside or play a ball in with his strong left foot demands the start.

Jorge Torres Nilo is another lock, and will likely start at leftback for Mexico. He has made a few mistakes in his career for the national team, but there aren't other strong possibilities for left defenders in this squad. If Torres Nilo doesn't have to worry about supporting the team forward, which happened when Jamaica absorbed Mexico's pressure, he can focus on improving his defensive game.

Severo Meza is the only natural rightback on the team with Paul Aguilar overlooked for this call-up. If Chepo sends out any formation with fullbacks on Friday, Meza will start against Honduras. Meza didn't play in the last qualifying match and will be looking to insert himself into the permanent starting XI by impressing Chepo and Mexican fans alike.

Carlos Salcido will start as one of Mexico's central midfielders. He hasn't been as dynamic a player as he was in previous years, but a defensive midfield role suits Salcido's skill set well. Chepo did call in veteran midfielder Gerardo Torrado, but the Cruz Azul man hasn't been in particularly strong form and probably won't see the field in either of the 2 WCQ matches this round.

Less certain players

The player who starts alongside Salcido in central midfield is a harder question. He is a ball-winning defensive-minded midfielder who can follow up the play and take awfully inaccurate shots. There are 3 options to complement this type of player.

One choice is a player like Angel Reyna, who will always look to be going forward and creating with an attacking mentality; this is least likely playing away to a strong Honduran side. Another choice is an out-and-out defensive player, like Jesus Molina, to play in front of the back 4 as an anchorman.

The most likely option is a player who can go box-to-box as another ball-winner, but one who excels at finding the correct pass going forward. This choice begs for Hector Herrera or Jesus Zavala. Both can do what Mexico will need in a 4-man midfield alongside Salcido, but he and Herrera didn’t play well with each other against Jamaica. If Chepo elects to play 5 across the midfield in Honduras, we could see any combination of Salcido and any 2 of these options starting.

Giovani dos Santos started against Jamaica, playing on the right side of midfield and was subbed out at halftime because he was trying to take over the game by drifting centrally. Chepo seems to be limiting dos Santos's influence by not playing in his best formation. The inclusion of veteran defensive players seems to indicate that Mexico will be playing for a draw more than a win in Honduras, which doesn't bode well for the former Barcelona product. Dos Santos should play in this game, but where and how long depend on Chepo's gameday tactical decisions.

If dos Santos plays his central trequarista role (or not at all), Javier Aquino will play on the right wing. The recent Villarreal signing has solidified himself as a starter for the Yellow Submarine after several substitute appearances and will try to bring explosiveness to the game against Honduras. Aquino is more of a midfielder than dos Santos and he is willing to track back on the play to put in defensive work.

The second central defender who will start alongside Moreno could either be Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez or Hugo Ayala. Chepo called up long-time Chivas defender Jonny Magallon but his current team, Club Leon, has the second worst record in Liga MX. Maza has the experience of playing in 2 World Cup competitions, but his performance in the last qualifying match (not to mention his potentially rude gesture walking into the tunnel) puts his place in the squad in jeopardy.

Hugo Ayala has been a solid player for Tigres for several seasons and has the size and skill to compete on the international level. Ayala has had chances with the national team before, but never paired with Moreno. Chepo will want to forge a strong partnership early in the Hexagonal qualifying round before more pressure piles up on the team.

The best of the rest

Players who just missed the cut and could feature off the bench include: Carlos Pena, Raul Jimenez, Diego Reyes and whichever of Herrera and Zavala doesn't start.

Pena started 20 of 21 matches for Leon in the Apertura last fall, scoring 7 goals in the process, but is still behind both Herrera and Zavala as depth for 2-way midfielders. Unless something drastic happens, Pena will be looking onto the first half from the bench on Friday.

Diego Reyes, despite receiving a red card for a goal-line handball in the dying minutes of Club America's game over the weekend, has a solid head on his shoulders. He reads the game well and is in a good position more often than not, but his lack of strength and size limit his effectiveness on the international stage. While he promises to bulk up by hitting the gym, he could still be easily pushed off the ball or lose aerial battles against a physical Honduran side.

(Full disclosure, I'm a Club America fan) Raul Jimenez is a physical specimen at 6'3'', 170 pounds. He is a rare unselfish forward who looks for the pass if his teammate is in a slightly better position to score. Playing alongside Christian “Chucho” Benitez at America has made the gold medalist a great support forward who could combine well with a poacher like Chicharito. Jimenez is still an unfinished project and I don't think Chepo will play a 4-4-2 from the start; however he could be a crucial substitution late in the game to stretch out play or hold up the ball.

NEXT UP: March 22 – Mexico vs. Honduras, Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula, Honduras. 5 p.m. EST, Telemundo.

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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