The year that was filled with so much hope and promise for the Mexican National Team hasn't quite panned out that way. The positive momentum of the youth ranks, Olympics, and the earlier qualifying rounds has been replaced with angst and frustration. Mexico has so thoroughly underperformed this year.
Expectations for the team had swollen to ridiculous levels. This summer's Confederations Cup was going to be a showcase for Mexico team that was finally putting it all together. The talented youth were going to blend with the experienced core to create a truly elite team. There was even plenty of talk of Mexico finally breaking in to the final stages of next year's World Cup. Supporters of El Tri were riding high. The let down hasn't been easy.
With any major let down the causal hunt swung in to full force. Who was to blame for these dramatic failures? The national team manager is always an easy target. He's not one of the men on the field wearing your nation's colors. He can be replaced, unlike so many of the players of the pitch. The manager is an easy scapegoat. 'Chepo' de la Torre has made it even easier. De la Torre has clearly done a poor job of selecting his starting eleven, using his substitutions, and preparing a suitable tactical plan to match the opponent. He's hasn't gotten positive results in any level of competition and has thoroughly botched the integration of different generations of players. The team is now less prepared for the World Cup than they were ten months ago.
There are obvious fixes to the problems Chepo has imposed on the team. Yet, they don't answer all of the questions that surround this team. The strengths of the squad haven't proven to be that. The creation of scoring opportunities, smart possession passing, and flawless defending have all been absent. We could argue that the old men need to come out. We could push for a more offensive minded strategy. We could scream at Chepo for moving Chicharito further and further away from the goal. We could laugh at the use of the last man added to the roster in nearly every match. The thing is that we would be more than justified in all of those things. Those issues are obvious, but turning those issues around would not be a cure-all. There never is one.
The fact is that the core attacking options for El Tri are not performing at a level that could overcome the difficult situation their manager continues imposes on them. Andres Guardado has been extremely disappointing for Mexico of late. It would, of course, be helpful if he had more help from the left back position or someone who could handle more possession in midfield along with him. Yet, despite this he's lacked positive play. His shot has been dreadful and his quality passes have been too few. The constantly shifting right wing of Javier Aquino and Pablo Barrera hasn't lived up to potential either. Both players have only shown spurts of impactful play. They've also shown long stretches of ineffective, sloppy play.
Giovani Dos Santos has played well, when he's played. It's also hard to fault Chicharito. He's a finisher with very little to finish. These two thrive on service and having players to play off. Those are both non-existant.
The stagnate defensive midfield has so thoroughly hurt Mexico's ability to win matches. It's painfully obvious, but the solution is less so. At least it's hard to find the consensus that the problems present. Many have called for Hector Herrera to see more playing time, including myself. Herrera has the ability to contribute on the offensive end, while still maintaining order in the midfield. Yet, Herrera's been in a pretty significant slump with club and country for some time now. His time on the field has done little to justify his inclusion in the lineup.
One could argue that Herrera should be given the time to gel with the regular first team starters. I certainly think there's validity to this argument. However, the clearest answer to the problems facing El Tri and its flawed lineup wasn't on the latest roster.
Someone like Fernando Arce would have made a lot of sense for Mexico. He is the kind of central midfielder that could have been extremely helpful in moving the ball forward and connecting with Mexico's scoring threats. But Chepo doesn't need to be talked in to adding more aging players to the team. The median age of the roster needs to move in the other direction ahead of next year's World Cup.
Marco Fabian is the player that needs to be on El Tri's roster and starting lineup moving forward. The soon to be 24-year-old midfielder has been stuck in the mire of Chivas turmoil for far too long. This has aided in overshadowing one of Mexico's most promising young players. Fabian could have easily made the European jump earlier in his career. He's been ready. He has long stood out as one of the most dynamic players in Mexico's youth ranks.
Fabian's ability to play in multiple attacking positions, passing skill, and smart presence on the ball make him the perfect missing link for Mexico. When you combine that with his incredible shooting ability and usefulness with free kicks his absence is almost ludicrous. He could be viewed as somewhat repetitive to Giovani Dos Santos, but I see that as a positive. Would it not be useful to have another player on the field who could both create and finish? Guardado and Aquino/Barrera have not been able to get it done in either respect. The central midfield has been obviously incapable of contributing.
Having Marco Fabian and Giovani Dos Santos on the field together could take something away from the defense. Actually, that would be a good thing. Mexico has been playing with too many players on the field whose primary (only) responsibility has been sitting back on defense. As Mexico once again approach Concacaf qualifying, they will be facing defenses that are more than happy to sit back and absorb Mexico's weak offensive game plan. More attacking options are a necessity, especially ones that are capable of putting the ball in the net.
Mexico will be sending out a B - squad (possibly C) to play in the upcoming Gold Cup competition. The defending champions are still stocked with talent to play in this tournament and should be able to make a run at retaining the title. The Gold Cup was not seen as important as the recently completed Confederations Cup.
However, this Gold Cup will be extremely important for Marco Fabian and Mexico. Fabian needs to perform to the heights of his potential. Standout play could propel him in to the senior side for the next round of qualifying matches (it could also have the fringe benefit of raising his sell price for Chivas, assuming they ever aim to free him). If Fabian plays like he has shown he is able, Mexico will be well on their way to another Gold Cup. They will also have an important player locked in to their roster moving forward towards the World Cup. With that being said, all of this rides on the very big 'if' of Fabian and his potential.
There will be plenty of intrigue with this Gold Cup. Many players will be looking to make an impact for their country and their own careers. Mexico fans should be hoping that Marco Fabian is the one that makes the biggest splash.
** the photo is used under a creative commons license from MaterialScientist