Mexico Will Be Fired Up Against the US

El Tri started an attacking formation but gave up two goals against Honduras
by Brendan Doherty   |   Monday, March 25, 2013

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

Mexico national team manager Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre surprised observers in the first Hexagonal contest at home against Jamaica with a defensive lineup and did the same in Honduras by sending out El Tri's traditional free flowing attacking formation.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández started up top with Giovani dos Santos tucked in behind him in a free role. Villarreal winger Javier Aquino played on the right while Andres Guardado played down the left. Jesus Zavala partnered Carlos Salcido in central midfield in front of a back four consisting of Severo Meza, Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez, Héctor Moreno and Jorge Torres Nilo. Guillermo Ochoa started his first match in goal during this qualification cycle.

The first thing is first; Chicharito is the best player in CONCACAF. You can call him a poacher and you can say he doesn't create opportunities for others, but there's no doubt that he can finish even the slimmest of chances inside the box. In my preview of Mexico's match in Honduras, I mentioned the Guadalajara native's ability with his head despite his size, and on Friday the diminutive striker added 2 more clever goals to his CV.

Mexico's first goal came in the 28th minute from a cross by Andres Guardado on the left side after he ran past Arnold Peralta and Maynor Figueroa. The 5’7’’ Chicharito beat 6'2'' Víctor Bernárdez to the corner of the 6-yard box and his glancing header flew into the far side of the net. Up until that point, Mexico had created more chances than Honduras but Los Catrachos looked dangerous on the break when space opened up between the Mexican midfield and defense.

In the 54th minute, Carlos Salcido hit an in-swinging free kick from the left side to the near post. Chicharito left fullback Arnold Peralta looking dumbfounded as he beat the Honduran to the ball and redirected the free kick into the near post. About 10 minutes into the second half, Mexico looked to be cruising in 100 degree Honduran heat.

Perhaps the Mexican forwards celebrated a bit too hard as both Chicharito and dos Santos soon left the game with small injuries. That proved to be the tidal swing Honduras needed to turn the game around. Just seconds after dos Santos hobbled off the field, Honduran forward Carlo Costly rose above a wobbling Maza to power a header down past Ochoa.

About a minute later, Costly surged down the left side, brushed aside Severo Meza and duped a bewildered Maza into committing a foul inside the area. New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengston stepped up to take the penalty and, despite a great save from Ochoa, Bengston tapped in the rebound to tie the game.

With both starting forwards out of the game, Mexico struggled to create chances in the final third. Raul Jimenez did well to chase down long balls but couldn't connect with Omar Bravo or a more advanced Guardado. Hector Herrera came on late in the game for Aquino but sorely missed his only shot.

Now, Mexico returns the Azteca with only 2 points from 2 games and fired up from the early success of the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Predicting the US formation

If Mexico walks onto the field playing the free-flowing 4-2-3-1 it showcased for the first 65 minutes in Honduras, then the United States is in trouble. The Americans don't have any fully fit wide options for the midfield or attack. Most projected lineups I've seen for the US have the Yanks playing through the center. If all of the pieces of Mexico's starting XI are healthy, El Tri could come out with a 2 or 3 goal victory.

The United States is likely to play a center back pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson, both of whom are rather slow and cumbersome defenders. Central defender/defensive midfielder Geoff Cameron should start at right back while winger DaMarcus Beasley will start at left back. Maurice Edu could line up as a defender, but he is more likely to fill in for injured Jermaine Jones in midfield.

Graham Zusi, Sacha Kljestan and Clint Dempsey can play in wide positions, but none of them are natural wingers. This means the American attack, led by Michael Bradley, will probably come through the middle, allowing Mexico's fullbacks to power up the flanks.

If he is on his game, dos Santos can be the buzzing nuisance providing pressure on American players in their own defensive third of the field. Even if he has an off-day at the Azteca, Chicharito has the quality to dart around and find the open pockets in between the make-shift and clumsy US defense.

How Mexico prepares for the Yanks

Rodríguez's yellow card in Honduras means that he'll miss the showdown against the United States, which could be a blessing in disguise for El Tri. Yanks' fans should feel disappointed that the central defender, who struggled mightily against both Los Catrachos on Friday and the Reggae Boyz last month, will miss the match. Rodriguez’s forced absence means that one of Hugo Ayala, Jonny Magallón and Diego Reyes will slot in to partner Héctor Moreno.

Two-time World Cup veteran Carlos Salcido also seemed to struggle with the pace of the match in Honduras. He mistimed a handful of challenges, including one on the edge of the penalty area that gave Honduras a promising free kick from a dangerous position. An injury to left back Torres Nilo means that Salcido will likely play as a fullback against the United States.

Overall, the partnership between Salcido and Zavala provided the stability in the back to allow Mexico's 4 attacking players to harass the Honduran defense. Chepo has to decide if the US poses a great enough threat going forward to select a defensive midfield partnership or whether to take advantage of Jones's injury to attack from midfield.

Héctor Herrera can effectively carry the ball forward or make late-arriving runs into space. Gerardo Torrado is a veteran defensive midfielder who can protect the back four. Carlos Peña could fill either role depending on the situation and would be my choice to come off the bench in the second half.

It’ll be interesting to see how the roster shapes out. The Mexican national team held a brief press conference on Monday morning to discuss its upcoming match against the United States. Chepo de la Torre didn't mention that either Chicharito or dos Santos had suffered a serious injury, both of whose availability will determine the success Mexico generates on Tuesday night. El Tri has the players at its disposal to cast aside the US at its national fortress, the Estadio Azteca.

NEXT UP: March 26 – Mexico vs. United States, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico. 10:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, Univision.

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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