One summer. Two big tournaments.
Mexico is faced with fielding a national team for this summer's Gold Cup and Copa America. While it would be nice to bring Mexico's best possible eleven to each tournament, it is unreasonable and not particularly nice for those selected players. There isn't a long offseason for soccer players; filling it with two separate international tournaments is a bit much.
Miguel Herrera has long referenced the need to build two national team units to successfully navigate this summer. The reasons for this approach are obvious, but the problems are numerous. Depth is the primary concern. While some positions have some flexibility within the national team ranks, there are others that can barely fill one roster.
Herrera recently addressed the idea that some players may be used in both summer tournaments. This surely is a positive prospect if Piojo could lock down a few key players that are willing to make this commitment. Yet, I wanted to take a look at what two national team rosters might look like at the moment. Here I will lay out what the rosters might look like if Herrera does in fact use two separate player groups. I provide some justification for each with their strengths and potential pitfalls. Be prepared. It gets a little frightening.
Goalkeeper: Jesus Corona, Alfredo Talavera
Defense: Rodolfo Pizarro, Hiram Mier, Diego Reyes, Julio Cesar 'Cata' Dominguez, Adrian Aldrete, Luis Venegas, Miguel Herrera, Carlos Salcedo, Enrique Perez
Midfield: Jose Juan Vazquez, Javier Guemez, Carlos Pena, Luis Montes, Javier Aquino, Isaac Brizuela, Alonso Escoboza
Forward: Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta, Eduardo Herrera
If you were to label one squad an A-squad and the other a B-squad, this has 'B' written all over it. That's not to say this is a scrub team. We're sending Chicharito and Raul Jimenez. Gallito Vazquez will be controlling the midfield. Yet, the backline ... the backline. It's not pretty.
It just is what it is. The Gold Cup needs to take preference. It punches a potential ticket to the Confederations Cup. This is invaluable for Mexico and obviously needs to be prioritized. Taking that into consideration, the Gold Cup pulls what is more or less the best possible lineup. These are the leftovers. They're tasty, but they were probably better when fresh.
Why this team will succeed:
Umm. It probably won't. Not completely anyway. This team is unlikely to take a trophy. However, there is enough talent on the roster to do something if it comes together.
There is a bit of poetry in this lineup. The Leon midfield pairing has the experience playing together to transition past the All Star Team tendency of crudely thrown together 'B-squads'. These guys know each other well and should be able to perform as a cohesive unit. Having Isaac Brizuela as a fail-safe doesn't hurt either.
Chicharito and Raul are still ridiculously talented players. Yes, it is true that they are stuck on the bench. They are also on two of the strongest teams in the world. Failing to get minutes with these clubs is not a major strike against the abilities of these two.
Why this team might fail:
The defense. It's really quite simple and painfully obvious. Mexico doesn't possess a depth of two full backlines. In fact, it barely has one.
With that being said, there is enough collective talent in this group. Diego Reyes is still the Mexican defender with the highest ceiling. If he reaches his full potential, he could be the mainstay for Mexico for the next twelve years. Julio Cesar 'Cata' Dominguez and Adrian Aldrete have both been sort of fringe national team players with flashes of brilliance (and the occasional flashes of something at the other end of the spectrum). If both could avoid the egregious errors, they could be positive contributors. Hiram Mier was supposed to be the man; he still hasn't become the man. If Mier can find a way to step up in the big moments, Mexico could have a great defender. Rodolfo Pizarro has shown everything you want from a defender growing in to the position. Pizarro is also twenty. If he could play above his experience, Pizarro will be nothing near a liability.
It could be good, but for all the "ifs". There's just too much that would need to go just right for this to work. The problem is there isn't enough depth in defense to make a stronger starting group.
The other issues with this group come from questions of form. Carlos 'Gullit' Pena hasn't regained his pre-World Cup form as of yet. Luis Montes is still returning from his horrific leg injury. Could this pairing still produce magic? The other question comes in the current form of the front pairing. Minutes are few and far between for Chicharito and Raul Jimenez at the moment. Will the ill effects of that rust be present this summer? I personally doubt it will matter, but it certainly isn't helping.
Goalkeeper: Guillermo Ochoa, Moises Munoz, William Yarbrough
Defense: Paul Aguilar, 'Maza' Rodriguez, Rafa Marquez, Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Oswaldo Alanis, Miguel Ponce, Jordan Silva, Luis Rodriguez
Midfield: Jonathan Dos Santos, Antonio Rios, Juan Carlos Medina, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Jesus 'Tecatito' Corona, Jurgen Damm, Arturo Gonzalez
Forward: Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Erick 'Cubo' Torres
This is about as good as it gets. The Gold Cup is a necessity; therefore, no amount of hedging should be done here. The best unit should be sent to go as far to ensuring the trophy as possible.
Why this team will succeed:
The midfield is a thing of beauty. Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera are arguably two of the top three most important Mexican players at the moment. They both killed it at the World Cup. They're both currently killing it in Europe. Having Jonathan Dos Santos tucked behind this duo doesn't hurt either.
Oh yeah, and we are tossing Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela up front. Yes. Gio and Vela up front. Who is not excited about that?
I also like the idea of having some of Mexico's brightest youth in the midfield bench for this tournament. If the situation arises, being able to swap in Jesus 'Tecatito' Corona, Arturo 'Ponchito' Gonzalez, or Jurgen Damm is a ridiculous luxury that could provide comfort despite the possible difficulties. Any of these three could be starting in on of these two teams, but are also a great failsafe.
Why this team might fail:
Did you notice how I failed to mention the defense? There are some issues.
Should Rafa Marquez choose to play this summer, could we expect him to once again rise to the occasion and be that vital cog in central defense? Is it reasonable to expect 'Maza' Rodriguez to play in his World Cup form once again? Has Paul Aguilar ever defended his position to even a mediocre level?
This is still the best grouping at the moment, but much can change in the coming months. Aguilar's hold on this spot definitely seems shaky (and rightly so). Carlos Vela was all in for a European tour, but North American play has yet to be seen. Yet, these questions feel fabricated. There's not a ton of concern here. This team should be facing the US in the final, without question.
** Image used under a creative commons license from Imran Chaudhry