Friendly Choices

June is coming. A trip to Brazil and the pressure of the world's biggest tournament will also come in quick succession for the Mexican National Team. Like an impending storm, the World Cup won't wait for El Tri to be ready.

I imagine for something so grand in scale, one could never feel completely prepared. Absent a high degree of false self-confidence, nearly every team would welcome more time to ready for the big stage. Considering the rockiness of the qualifying campaign, the short tenure of its manager, and the roster upheaval, Mexico needs every second of available preparation.  The upcoming exhibition matches, which will undoubtedly be important for every World Cup team, take on even more importance. While, most teams will be looking to create rhythm among a squad that doesn't get enough opportunities to play with one another, Mexico still has key decisions to make regarding the eleven that will take the field in Brazil.

Miguel Herrera's 23-man roster is a strong one. There are not too many great snubs (other than Miguel Ponce) or curious inclusions (other than Carlos Salcido). The great fears of Giovani Dos Santos or Guillermo Ochoa being left off the roster were put to bed; this is a squad El Tri fans can feel pretty good about.

Yet, setting the starting eleven is, predictably, a trickier proposition. While Herrera stated that every player enters this camp from scratch with their spot to earn, one has to think (or hope) that this is just coach-speak. Surely, most of the starting lineup is locked down.  Assuming some consistency in Herrera's tactics and previous choices, there appears to be a handful of spots that are still in doubt. It's likely that these exhibitions will determine who starts against Cameroon.

Left wing-back / Right wing-back (2 spots - 3 players)

The inclusion of Andres Guardado in the World Cup roster was a bit of a surprise. While his previous record and experience should have locked-down his place, his play over the past year left in largely in doubt. Taking the place of the absolutely on-fire Miguel Ponce, Guardado was the more seasoned optioned for Herrera.

He will likely be competing for the starting left wing-back spot. Perceived starter, Miguel Layun will be difficult to unseat, but his counterpart at the right wing-back spot should be less-so. Paul Aguilar's hold on to his starting position is less secure. Layun's ability to play on either side makes for a probable competition between Guardado and Aguilar for the other spot.

Defensive Midfield (1 spot - 3 players)

There may be no more important role to fill in this squad, but there is still doubt as to who can/will claim the spot. The favorite for the position should still be Juan Carlos Medina. Herrera used Medina in this position while managing Club America. Medina put in a solid performance in the April friendly with the United States, especially when compared with the first half performance of Jesus Zavala. Yet, even the most fervent of Americanistas know this player's weaknesses. There's some doubt as to whether he can hold up to World Cup-level talent.

His main competition for the spot is Jose Juan "Gallo" Vazquez. The Leon midfielder has had an exceptional run of form at the club side and appears to be a strong choice to take the starting role. He is likely to be studied hard in the training camp and exhibitions to test his preparedness for the starting roster.

An outside option for the defensive midfield position is Porto's Hector Herrera. The dynamic and youthful midfielder has the positional flexibility to assume this role, but his lack of playing time at the position makes this more of a long shot. However, there is a strong case to be made that this would be the ideal situation for El Tri.

And no, I am not considering Carlos Salcido as an option for a starting spot.

Midfield (2 spots - 5 players)

The two central attacking spots could go plenty of different ways. Miguel Herrera should be looking to find a pairing that matches well with those around them in the upcoming friendlies.

The leaders of the pack are probably the Leon duo, Carlos 'Gullit' Pena and Luis Montes. Both are huge part of the success of their club side and have done enough with the national team to make strong cases for the spots. However, Pena's performance in the US friendly was less than ideal, and Montes feels like the kind of player that always needs to prove himself.

The stiff competition behind these two makes it hard to pencil anyone in. Hector Herrera's recent play at Porto stands up to anyone's 2014 form. The 'Mexican Ribery' has long been thought to be one of the brightest Mexican youth talents. His European move and success make a possible exclusion tough. Herrera could fit anywhere in the midfield and has a strong case to do so.

Two other players have an outside chance of capturing one of these starting spots. Marco Fabian and Isaac Brizuela are on the short-list for player of the season in Mexico. They've been outstanding for the club sides and are great inclusions on the World Cup roster. There are doubts that make each more of a long shot and more likely to be considered as solid substitute options. For Brizuela, it would be his youth and lack of experience. The 23-year-old Brizuela, is just now coming in to his best play. It's possible that we haven't seen it long enough to know how he will translate to the big stage. The doubts around Fabian come from nearly the opposite place. We've seen too much of him - in the tabloids. Fabian carries the reputation (fairly or unfairly) or being inconsistent and no-showing matches. There is also the more legitimate question of how well Fabian, who normally plays his best on the wing, fits in to Herrera's 5-3-2.  

Forward (1 spot - 4 players)

It would be hard to imagine Oribe Peralta starting on the bench for Mexico. One of the forward spots should be his. Who fills in as his partner up top is less clear.

Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez should be that guy. In many ways the face of the squad, Chicharito has had a rough year. His playing time at Manchester United dwindled to nothing. His play in qualifying campaign failed to impress. There are questions as to how well he plays with Peralta or how flexible he is to adapt to differing game situations. There's the nagging concern that he's lost his best attributes for quickness and deadly finishing. Then again, he's still Chicharito - the third highest scorer for Mexico all-time. Any sparks of his previous self in these exhibitions, and the spot is his.

Giovani Dos Santos remains more of a long shot, but a real talented one. Dos Santos, another fan favorite, is still thought to be one of the most talented players on the roster. Yet, there's questions of fit and how well Dos Santos can adapt to play under Miguel Herrera. With Dos Santos on the field his moments of magic could come at any time, but the possibility of a lost player also exist. There's probably no player's peak game that could contribute more to the starting eleven than that of Dos Santos. Herrera will need to see some of it before Brazil.

Alan Pulido and Raul Jimenez are the less-likely options for a starting spot. While both are strong players who Mexico supporters should feel very comfortable with. Their youth may just keep them on the bench as good substitute options. Then again, it wouldn't be shocking if a few goals against Ecuador or Portgual sees one of them to the starting role.  

Needless to say there's plenty to be excited (and probably a bit anxious) about in the upcoming weeks for Mexico. They may not be completely prepared for Brazil, but hopefully are able to approach it with clarity. 

** photo is used under a Creative Commons license from tom1231



Jason Marquitz's picture

With Juan Carlos Medina out with an injury, I guess Salcido now has to be considered. The position is still probably Vazquez's to lose.

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