Mr. President, Mr. Chepo, honored guests, and fellow followers of El Tri:
It is my privilege to report that the state of El Tri is good. The team is strong and has the potential to become stronger as time passes. This does not overlook the fact that great tests await. The team travels to Honduras this week to face their first road match of the Hex. The headaches that a match in San Pedro Sula can cause are never to be underestimated. The task is formidable. Following that, the team returns home to the Estadio Azteca to face their neighbors to the north, the United States. Every match between these two is heightened due to the stakes but also the rivalry.
The 23 man roster was selected for the upcoming qualifiers with Honduras and the US. While offering few glaring omissions, there were definitely a few eyebrow raisers.
o Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona, Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera
o Defenders: Hugo Ayala, Jonny Magallon, Severo Meza, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes, Francisco ‘Maza’ Rodriguez, Jorge Torres Nilo
o Midfielders: Javier Aquino, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Jesus Molina, Carlos Pena, Carlos Salcido, Gerardo Torrado, Jesus Zavala
o Forwards: Omar Bravo, Giovani Dos Santos, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Raul Jiminez, Angel Reyna
Jonny Magallon was a surprise return to national team duty. With only sporadic call-ups recently and his move to the now downtrodden defense of Leon, his presence on the national team probably speaks more to the inconsistency of the position that anything Magallon has done. Omar Bravo’s inclusion in this list was probably a surprise to Bravo, his immediate family, and members of his fan club (if he has one). The Bravo reclamation project is nothing short of miraculous. His time in MLS didn't wow anyone. His time with Cruz Azul reeked of a player who was no longer worthy of a paycheck. This season Bravo has been nothing short of spectacular for Atlas. His play is a big reason why they are in second place in the standings and have distanced themselves from relegation. Now being brought back in to the fold on the national team completes his road back to relevance. Bravo's play has absolutely earned him this call up, and the profoundness of this could not be undersold. Now whether he sees playing time might be another story.
'Chepo' de la Torre clearly has intentions of working some of the youngsters in to the regular national team fold. Herrera, Aquino, Reyes, and Jiminez are all well deserving of places on this roster and of spots in the starting eleven. The latter is only probable for Herrera and Aquino. Despite the incorporation of this youthful bunch, Chepo is still hanging on to some players that haven't played to national team levels in some time. Gerardo Torrado's inclusion is a crime. His play with Cruz Azul has barely warranted a position in that starting eleven. His days playing for El Tri should long be over. He can be good for twenty minutes and a yellow card, if that helps. But I'm struggling to think of how that would be useful. Hopefully, this is his swan song, and he comes out to give appreciative waves from the bench.
This roster also has two more veterans who are likely to be in the starting eleven, but should probably remain on the bench. Stuttgart clearly knew something about 'Maza' Rodriguez that has come as a surprise to many in Mexico. His few months with Club America have not shown resemblence to his former self. To put it bluntly, he looks washed up. Serving as the captain for February's Jamaica match didn't exactly help his case for inclusion, nor did his infamous 'injured' digit. Despite his youth, his teammate of the moment, Diego Reyes is more worthy of his starting spot. A much tougher call comes when considering Carlos Salcido. Undoubtedly, Salcido needs to be on this roster. He is a respected veteran of the team who still maintains a high level of play. But there is a bit of doubt whether the team is best served by either keeping Hector Herrera out of the lineup in favor of Salcido, or whether the combination of the two is correct for the team. Time needs to tell on this one.
Oribe Peralta suffered a knee injury that will keep him from playing for a few weeks. This prevented his inclusion in the roster for the two upcoming qualifiers. I proudly drive the 'Cepillo' Peralta bandwagon. Yet, this could be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps, this injury forces Chepo to move away from his stubborn hold to the 4-4-2 formation. Peralta is a great player, but the team hasn't looked offensively competent when both he and Chicharito are on the field at the same time. If Chepo moves to the favored 4-2-3-1, the team may be more prepared to succeed.
Marco Fabian's injury has no silver lining. While not always popular with all national team supporters, there were few who had more spectacular form over the past few months than Fabian. His knee injury kept him off this roster, and he will likely be missed. Fabian wasn't going to start in these matches, but it would have been surprising if he didn't play. His pace and skill can't be found on the bench.
It's hard to get too upset about any absences on this roster. Aldo de Nigris hasn't earned his place with the team. He's scoring, but isn't playing to national team levels. Fairly or unfairly, Paul Aguilar's performance in the Jamaica qualifier nullified his inclusion again anytime soon. And while it would be huge to get the Pablo Barrera of old back again, he is still, apparently, a long way away from that.
One player who has a decent argument for inclusion in Javier Cortes. The Pumas midfielder/forward is currently playing at a high level. He could have easily taken Jesus Molina's or Carlos Pena's spot. Then again, if any of these players are appearing for extended minutes in the upcoming qualifiers, something has gone horribly wrong.
Oh, the Drama
The Carlos Vela saga is getting old. Can we schedule some sort of intervention? Maybe Vela and Chepo could sit down on Dr. Phil's couch and work out their feelings. Vela would make the team much stronger; his play with Real Sociedad more than proves that. These two need to hug it out, soon. No matter the past incidents or where the fault lies, Vela's refusal to play on the international stage can't be helping his stock abroad or in Mexico.
What we should expect
Mexico will be favored in each of their two approaching qualifiers. Anything less than four points from these games will be a massive disappointment. To be more exact, failing to win in their home match with the US, will not be met kindly. Mexico played about as badly as they could in their match with Jamaica. It can only get better ... and it will need to soon.
El Tri confidence scale from 1-10: 8
Justification: Logic would dictate that with Peralta's absence and the two matches in close proximity, that Chepo will mix up the formation for at least one of the fixtures. I may be going out on a limb by assuming logic will play a role in the decision making.
Despite this, the team is just too talented to repeat their Jamaica performance. It needs to look better this week. Right??
Next matches: Qualifier, March 22 (at Honduras) and Qualifier, March 26 (home vs. USA)