Beware the Friendlies of March

This week Miguel Herrera announced his Mexican national team roster for the upcoming friendlies with Ecuador and Paraguay.  Obviously, this roster doesn't carry the weight of a World Cup roster or even a Gold Cup roster. It is a group preparing for two March friendlies.

Early in a World Cup cycle, the importance of infusing youth into the squad could not be undervalued. A national team manager must be looking forward and thinking of what the group might be like in two or three years down the road. Then again, this has to be balanced with the need for experience in the side. Mexico face two important international tournaments this summer and will need to be prepared with little preparation.  The reality of the shaky ground that national team managers rest on, means that they can't be too focused on the future. The present is necessary to guarantee the future.

Balancing necessary preparation with current success is hard enough when in possession of job security. Hence, I find it difficult to criticize a call-up, such as Mexico's latest, too harshly. The manager is juggling a stack on plates while crossing a high wire. There's a lot going on.  Managers could be stricken down at any moment.

The Bad

Even with those concessions, I still see three choices by Herrera that are not the best. Unsurprisingly, all of those less-than-ideal selections are in the defense. Mexico's defense continues to be the troublesome position for both the present and future.

Paul Aguilar: I was unconvinced of the merits of Aguilar's inclusion in the squad last year. I remain skeptical this year. In Herrera's right wing-back position, Aguilar played well for Club America. However, the majority of his acclaim was gathered on the offensive side. He worked well in open space and was able to spark the offense often. The issue comes when there isn't wide open spaces in front of Aguilar. Playing on a stacked team domestically, Aguilar was able to thrive against lesser talent. In the important international matches, this is not the case. You may have also noticed, I have yet to mention anything about Aguilar's defending, when that is technically his position. To be blunt, there isn't much defending to mention.

I don't mean to be overly critical of Aguilar. The player has his uses - there are just better options in this position for El Tri. Adrian Aldrete, who is part of this call-up, fills the role of the veteran who could play immediately. Rodolfo Pizarro, who was not selected, is an immensely talented player who should be getting more experience with the senior side immediately. El Tri would be better served with either Aldrete or Pizarro in this position.   

Julio Cesar 'Cata' Dominguez: If unnecessarily bashing Cruz Azul players paid, I would be a very rich man. Being a grumpy Cruz Azul fan,  it's an obsessive hobby of mine. Cata isn't even one of the players I normally pick apart. He's actually a pretty strong defender and important player for the team. I enjoy his work. This is just one of those spots where youth may be better served. Cata is a good defender but one that could probably be sacrificed for some defenders along the lines of Jordan Silva, Miguel Herrera, Carlos Salcedo, or Enrique Perez. None of these prospects are as strong as Cata at the moment, but there's a strong chance at least one of them will be better in the long term. Now is a good time to start learning which it will be.

Hugo Ayala: This is basically a 'see above'. We know who Ayala is at this point. He's fine. He was one of those youth prospects who was thought to the be the next big one. Ayala never truly became a dominant defender. That's not to say he's not good in his position. Ayala is important for Tigres and has enough quality to be in this team. He's just not the player the national team needs at this point.

The Good

Luckily, there appears to be many positive inclusions in Herrera's roster selection. Excluding the large group of selections that are more expected, here are a few that I believe to be solid picks for these upcoming friendlies.

Eduardo Herrera: No matter what you think of his team or the player himself, this is a great selection for El Tri. Undoubtedly filling the spot vacated by Oribe Peralta's injury, Herrera doesn't fit the prototype for a national team success story. However, it's worth noting that Peralta didn't either. Herrera scores. And he's Mexican. And he's a forward. This puts Herrera is a very elite group that basically demands he gets a fair shake with El Tri. I wouldn't be totally surprised to see him flourish in this situation.  

Jurgen Damm: This selection might lean more toward the expectation side. In spite of his age, Damm is a must for any call-up at this point. He's just that good. Seeing him play alongside  the more established veterans in the national team side like Hector Herrera and the Golden Mexican Eagle Andres Guardado should be one of the highlights of these upcoming matches. 

Jorge Torres Nilo: You could argue that the same logic that made Dominguez and Ayala poor choices would work against Torres Nilo as well. I won't. Keeping a player that plays as a true left back (and does it well) involved in the national side is a good idea. It provides the ability to be more tactically flexible and adaptable to game situations. Forgetting players like Torres Nilo and his Monterrey counterpart, Severo Meza would be a mistake.

Diego Reyes: His lack of play doesn't merit a selection. His play when he has seen the field, doesn't merit a selection. Yet, this a player that should be in this team. Reyes is just too talented and possessing of too much potential to keep away from El Tri. The clear successor to Rafa Marquez needs to be kept close in what hopefully proves to be just a rough patch in his career. Porto grabbed him with very good reason. He is still not far removed from being arguably the most important player on Miguel Herrera's title winning America side (dry heave).  Let's all stay the course with Reyes.

Javier Guemez: Do you remember when we were all collectively freaking out about the lack of depth in the defensive midfield role? Do you remember when some combination of Gerardo Torrado and Jesus Zavala were the answers? No? You've repressed all of those emotional wounds? Good, good.

Gallito Vazquez calmed the troubled waters. Jonathan Dos Santos provides the potential for greatness. Guemez provides the depth. The inclusion of Guemez was my favorite of Piojo's borderline selections. He didn't need to be on this roster, but I sure am glad that he has a place. With the potential for split rosters this summer, getting him ready for the big stage could be important.  



*** artwork used under a creative commons liscense by Mary Harrsch



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