FOX Soccer Exclusive
Mexico face selection headaches
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Mexico coach José Manuel de la Torre foreshadowed the selection quandaries ahead on Friday night as he pondered the fallout from the 4-1 victory over Côte d'Ivoire last month.
El Tri's best performance of the year placed several players -- including Fernando Arce, Christian Giménez, Oribe Peralta, Diego Reyes and Ángel Reyna -- in contention for a starting berth for the critical World Cup qualifier against Honduras at Estadio Azteca ( live, Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET).
The issue offered a welcome change from the problems haranguing the embattled Mexico boss for much of the year: he now possesses a series of in-form players pushing his usual starters and sparking questions about the future of his relatively settled starting XI.
“It always complicates things to have more options,” de la Torre said in his native Spanish after the victory. “The question is: when they are all at their best, who do you call up? That's what is complicated. It's not just callups, either. It's who you are going to start. Those decisions are good for the coaching staff. It's bad when you don't have those options. That's when you really find it challenging.”
It isn't easy to sift through this squad right now, though; not with Peralta and Javier "Chicharito" Hernández both competing for a place in a side that usually holds one center forward (though sometimes two); not with Andrés Guardado back in the fold and with his usual berth on the left flank presumably occupied by Giovani dos Santos; not with Maza Rodríguez finding his spot in central defense under significant threat from current FC Porto reserve Reyes; and certainly not with the possibility of a wrong decision or two placing Mexico's qualifying campaign in some peril.
Most of the focus -- particularly in light of the three scoreless draws at Estadio Azteca so far during the Hexagonal -- falls on Hernández and Peralta. Chicharito noted earlier this week that he did not have an assured place in the starting XI, but the prospect of leaving him on the bench -- even with his recent lack of match fitness -- presents too significant of a risk given his goalscoring record with El Tri. De la Torre may feel compelled to partner Hernández and Peralta instead in a bid to apply direct pressure to an Honduras outfit likely to entrench in its own half and wait for the counter. The combination works neatly with Hernández allowed to mine for space around Peralta's deft hold-up work, but it also raises questions about how the overall shape of the side would adapt to their inclusion.
If Hernández and Peralta start together, then de la Torre must adjust his approach in midfield accordingly. Dos Santos and Reyna will likely feature on either flank to provide flexibility and ingenuity as they did against Côte d'Ivoire. That deployment leaves no room for Guardado in his usual berth on the left side of midfield and inevitably prompts a pair of conservative choices in central midfield. Arce, Giménez and Gerardo Torrado featured as the midfield trio against Côte d'Ivoire and performed well together, but there are concerns about whether any pairing from that group possesses the mobility to cope with the industrious Honduran midfield led by the combative Roger Espínoza. Jesús Zavala presents an alternative if de la Torre decides he needs some fresher legs in that department.
The rearguard in front of number one José de Jesús Corona could include Reyes after his assured display against the Ivorians. His dearth of match practice and his lack of experience at this level could pave the way for Maza to retain his usual berth alongside Héctor Moreno in central defense. A similar choice awaits at left back with Guardado now a viable alternative to incumbent Carlos Salcido, particularly in a match where defending falls well below attacking on the list of priorities at the outset. Guardado's meager time at the position, however, could prompt de la Torre to choose the reliable old hand instead to provide balance to Severo Meza's work on the right.
Each of these decisions carries significant weight in light of the heightened circumstances. De la Torre and Mexico cannot afford to lose this game or buckle under the unbearable pressure surrounding its outcome. These sort of circumstances often yield conservative choices -- perhaps the same lineup deployed against Côte d'Ivoire with Hernández included in Peralta's place if deemed fit enough -- from managers unwilling to gamble.
At least de la Torre now possesses a few cards in his hand as he steps up to the table. How well he manages to play them against Honduras will determine Mexico's success on the night and his immediate future with El Tri.
More Stories From Kyle McCarthy