Miguel Herrera expands his horizons as Mexico prepares for Korea Republic friendly

January 23rd, 2014

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Mexico manager Miguel Herrera cast aside his América-centric approach and expanded his horizons ahead of the upcoming friendly with Korea Republic.

Instead of relying on his former charges to form the foundation of the national side, Herrera adopted a more inclusive stance to cobble together his 21-man squad for the one-off match in San Antonio on Wednesday. He plucked several top performers from other Liga MX sides and tempted Diego Reyes to cross the pond in the middle of the European season.

The shift away from the one-club approach marks a natural evolution for Herrera to mark the first match since he took permanent control. His brief changed from the moment Mexico qualified in Wellington in November. The expedient group compiled for that challenge does not fit the task ahead in Brazil. And now it is down to Herrera to figure out how to assemble his roster with the proper blend of domestic and foreign-based players to navigate El Tri to the knockout stages.

This brief excursion to Texas constitutes the first chance to advance toward that objective. Herrera chose these players to help him along the way:

Goalkeepers: Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Herrera omitted Moisés Muñoz to run the rule over Corona and Talavera to sort out the increasingly muddled chase for the number one shirt. Corona bolstered his credentials with a series of assured displays under José Manuel de la Torre during the Hexagonal, but he lost his place to Guillermo Ochoa under rather controversial circumstances and slipped down the pecking order. Talavera retained his spot in the reckoning with his performances with Toluca. At this stage, both men — assuming Muñoz and Ochoa fit into Herrera’s plans moving forward — are fighting for one spot.

Defenders: Paul Aguilar (América), Miguel Layún (América), Rafael Márquez (León), Enrique Pérez (Atlas), Miguel Ponce (Toluca), Diego Reyes (FC Porto/POR), Francisco Rodríguez (América), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres), Juan Carlos Valenzuela (América)

Herrera extracted Reyes from the Porto reserves to strengthen his options in central defense. Reyes’ lack of match fitness creates concerns about his place in the pecking order (he really should attempt to engineer a loan move during the window), but his arrival indicates a need to assess alternatives to Valenzuela. Márquez and Rodríguez — like it or not — are essentially entrenched in the starting XI at this stage for want of better alternatives. Pérez functions as cover on the right side of the three or perhaps at the right wingback spot. He usually serves as a right back with Atlas.

Ponce and Torres Nilo return to the fold as potential alternatives on the left. Layúnremains the first-choice option there, but his versatility could see him provide cover in several spots if Herrera wants to tinker.

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Midfielders: Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Juan Carlos Medina (América), Luis Montes (León), Carlos Peña (León), Rodolfo Pizarro (Pachuca), José Juan Vázquez (León), Jesús Zavala (Monterrey)

This group separates neatly along the expected fissures: three holdover starters in Medina, Montes and Peña and a gaggle of players trying to carve out a role under the new regime.

Vázquez (deserving of his spot after a series of assured displays with León) and Zavala represent genuine alternatives to Medina in the holding role. The key in that spot as the World Cup approaches: finding an option capable of shouldering the physical demands of the position in more rigorous affairs. Korea Republic — even without some of its top-end players — offers a good test in that regard given its usual penchant for playing at a high tempo.

Brizuela and Pizarro (a rather surprising inclusion given his tendency to pop up wide right or as part of a forward trio with Pachuca) offer more direct competition for Montes’ place. Again, the concern here is the shunting of traditional wingers into more expansive roles. The dalliance with aging schemers appears over for the moment, though. Peña, as usual, does not have a natural competitor for his spot. If Peña loses either form or health by June, then Herrera might need to rip up his midfield plans entirely.

Forwards: Aldo de Nigris (Chivas), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Alan Pulido (Tigres)

Pulido brushed aside Raúl Jiménez and forced his way into the reckoning with his productivity over the past few months. He sits third in this pecking order — Peralta starts, de Nigris supplies a noticeable aerial threat — at the moment, but his inclusion and the paucity of options at Herrera’s disposal leaves plenty of room for growth. The best bet for Pulido and his World Cup hopes: display his ability to make an impact off the bench.

Images courtesy of Getty Images

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