23
Jan

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

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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.

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13
Dec

Liga MX Apertura Final: Leon defeats Club America in first leg clash

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Club León took a substantive step toward its sixth title with a 2-0 victory over holders Club América in the first leg of the Liga MX Apertura final on Thursday night.

Carlos Peña opened the scoring inside the opening quarter of an hour to offer León a tangible foothold from its fine first half display. América responded after the interval, but Mauro Boselli sumptuously chipped home the critical second in the final 15 minutes to secure a positive result at the Nou Camp.

The margin of victory affords León a modest cushion ahead of the second leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night. América possess ample motivation – the prospect of a record 12th title in Miguel Herrera’s final game in charge – to overturn the deficit. Las Águilas’ formidable home record in Mexico City offers hope of procuring the result required to claim a second championship in succession, but there is still plenty of work ahead for the holders.

Both teams will spend the next two days recovering before the return leg in the capital on Sunday. They will assess a few of the key points — including the five to follow here — as they plot their path to the summit of Mexican soccer.

1. León stamps its intent early: The home side grasped control of the first half from the outset. The back-and-forth tempo encouraged León to push numbers forward and unsettle América’s back five. América plays directly and quickly, but the cadence of the early stages moved too quickly for the holders. León used that brisk pace to create chances and eventually prompt the opening goal.

2. Peña imposes his will: Peña exposed Herrera’s decision to name both Osvaldo Martínez and Rubens Sambueza in his midfield three with his tireless industry in the center of the park. His relentless work piled pressure on América every time he touched the ball. His work on the opening goal — seeing a loose clearance from a corner kick, sprinting to the ball in front of his man and thumping it past Moisés Muñoz from the edge of the penalty area — neatly captured his considerable contributions on the evening.

3. América responds after the break: Herrera motivated his side at the interval and watched his players improve substantially at the star of the second half. By obtaining more of the ball and using it more judiciously, The visitors prevented León from turning the match into a track meet once more. The improved width and the reinforced work through the middle created opportunities. Martínez even forced a good save from the unsteady William Yarbrough on a half-volley. It just didn’t lead to the goal required to consolidate after such a promising spell.

4. Boselli punishes América for its inability to grab the equalizer: The second goal came from a typically determined Peña run through the middle. Maza Rodríguez intervened and tackled the ball straight into Boselli’s path. The former Wigan striker allowed the ball to slide all the way across his body before he clipped it neatly over Munoz for the second. His precise display of skill rescued an otherwise mundane half for León and sent the home side into a promising position.

5. León might rue the chances squandered in the final stages: América buckled in the wake of Boselli’s goal. León perked up considerably given the additional impetus. It nearly caught Muñoz out on one or two occasions, but a backward header from an unsuspecting Rodríguez glanced over the bar in the waning seconds of the game. The difference between a two-goal and a three-goal deficit is a substantial one. If América storms out as expected on Sunday evening, then León might lament its inability to kill off this tie on home soil.

20
Nov

Five points from Mexico’s World Cup qualifying win vs. New Zealand

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Mexico complete its escape from the abyss in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Most of the hard work occurred a week ago at the Azteca, but the 4-2 triumph in Wellington dispatched New Zealand for good and guaranteed El Tri’s place in the World Cup draw next month.

The two-legged victory bolstered Miguel Herrera’s considerable claims for a full-time appointment and rescued this sputtering qualifying mission at the last possible instant. Oribe Peralta grabbed a first-half hat trick to erase any lingering doubts, but the second half — peculiar as it was — could prove more useful to Herrera as he starts to plot the next step.

Each move from now until next summer will prove crucial. Herrera must accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. And he must weigh a few of the take-home points from this second leg at Westpac Stadium along the way with him to achieve those ends:

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1. Directness works for this group: Mexico must figure out what it can take from this modest test and apply to more rigorous examinations. Herrera’s emphasis on playing quickly through midfield and providing service behind the line should stick. This team must counterattack deftly against better opponents. This setup — a 5-3-2 formation reliant on overlapping wingbacks and tidy passing sequences — should fare well enough if Herrera can insert one or two players capable of increasing the tempo even further.

2. Carlos Pena makes everything tick …: El Tri labored through this year with a central midfield incapable of providing the incisive pass and unwilling to join the attack at the proper junctures. Pena eradicated those concerns and finally transferred his domestic effectiveness to the international scene. His relentless vertical running through midfield makes Mexico more potent and offers a necessary dimension against more diverse opposition. His clever feed to Peralta for the opener showed he possesses the necessary guile to play through the lines, too.

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3. … and Peralta makes everything worthwhile: The streamlined approach through midfield only works if the forwards hold up the ball usefully and polish off the chances presented to them efficiently. Peralta earned top marks in both departments during both legs. He brings other players into attacking sequences and then moves intelligently into spots where he can convert in front of goal. His place in this lineup — barring a recurrence of those troublesome knee complaints — looks assured for the moment.

4. Late reminders underscore persistent defensive concerns: Herrera expects his three central defenders to establish a resolute base for his side to venture forward. The past three matches suggest this personnel group simply isn’t sufficient to fulfill that role against stronger competition. New Zealand played behind Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela far too easily given the paucity of genuine quality in its ranks. Rory Fallon’s goal, in particular, sounded a loud warning for trouble ahead. This stopgap trio needs reinforcements to cope with more astute players capable of punishing Mexico for its inability to cope with clever runs or tend to space properly.

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5. Time to make peace with the foreign contingent: The late wobbles in this second leg owed much to New Zealand’s persistence in Ricki Herbert’s final match in charge, but they also reinforced the need for further strengthening over the next few months. Herrera cannot afford to lean on a domestic core next summer. He must find a way to integrate Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernández and Héctor Moreno into this revamped setup. And he needs to concoct a plan to persuade the exiled Carlos Vela to return to the fold as well. Those four players make Mexico a better and more complete outfit. It is now down to Herrera to ensure they carve out meaningful roles and spark El Tri to success in Brazil.

Images provided by Getty.

13
Nov

Five points: Mexico v New Zealand, World Cup Qualifying Playoff

Mexico’s place in the World Cup should not rest upon success in a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. This tiresome process should have ended long ago. It has not for a host of reasons. And the ongoing series of failures ensures El Tri still has work to do to secure a place in Brazil next summer.

It is not an easy task, either. New Zealand offers committed and organized opposition. Mexico once again boasts a significant edge in technical ability, but it must close the difference in other, more rudimentary departments in order to see off the All Whites and travel to Wellington next week with a hefty advantage in tow.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera expects his charges to emerge victorious at Estadio Azteca. If they adhere to the game plan and note these five points along the way, then they should finally meet expectations and place both hands on a World Cup berth before leaving Mexico City:

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31
Oct

Five points: Mexico vs. Finland friendly

Mexico interim boss Miguel Herrera entered his only friendly prior to the World Cup playoff with New Zealand in search of evidence.

Herrera declared himself relatively pleased in the wake of the 4-2 triumph over Finland in San Diego, but the totality of the knowledge gained will give him plenty of room for pause. The switch to a 5-3-2 setup and the turnover in personnel inspired the expected uptick in certain areas without erasing all of the lingering problems exposed over the course of the past year.

In the buildup to the two-legged tie next month, Herrera must ponder a few crucial points from this match as he prepares El Tri for an unorthodox test:

1. The most important shift occurred on the ball in the attacking half: Mexico often bogs down when the opposition sets out its stall. The work in possession is tidy enough, but it often lacks the necessary creativity and thrust to break down an organized defense from the run of play. Herrera addressed the concern by directing his players to move more swiftly toward goal. The extra impetus – combined with decent width from the wingbacks – inspired more incisiveness in the final third. It is a tactic Mexico should embrace in the short term, given New Zealand’s willingness to pack numbers behind the ball.

2. No player benefited from the adjustments more than Carlos Peña: The industrious midfielder storms through midfield time and time again for Club León. His driving runs against the Finns – including the work to prompt and score Mexico’s second – provided the spark required to make this new setup hum.

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3. The search for a creative influence continues: Luis Montes featured from the start in a role previously earmarked for Lucas Lobos (withdrew due to family matters) and Rubens Sambueza (ruled ineligible by FIFA). Montes influenced the game in the early stages with his work in the buildup to the first two goals, but he faded out of it after that point. Sinha replaced him during the second half and struggled to conjure up chances. Herrera must locate a creative force to aid the efforts to break down New Zealand. Otherwise, Mexico may labor to knock down the door yet again.

4. Javier Hernández remains a key figure up front: Herrera continues to foreshadow rather limited involvement for his European-based players against New Zealand, but he should include Chicharito in his plans. The predatory striker presents more consistent danger in and around the penalty area than his chief competitor, Raúl Jiménez. The combination of Hernández on the prowl early with Oribe Peralta (a mandatory inclusion at this point) and Jiménez over the top late looks like Mexico’s best option up front at the moment.

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5. Rickety defense needs reinforcements: The introduction of a third center back did not shore up the persistent issues in defense. There were issues with spacing and stepping all night against a rather impotent Finland side. Both concerns present significant danger given the dearth of pace in the trio of Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela. Herrera ruled out Diego Reyes – a good fit given his familiarity with the system – as a potential savior after the match. If Reyes isn’t coming, then El Tri must opt for Héctor Moreno and search for other alternatives to strengthen a defensive unit that cannot afford to give the All Whites a foothold in Mexico City.

(Images courtesy: Getty Images)

13
Oct

Still plenty of work ahead for Mexico

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Image courtesy Mexsport Sports Agency

Raúl Jiménez’s stunning bicycle kick constituted just one spectacular moment in Mexico’s 2-1 victory over Panama on Friday night. But Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich must process more than just the fallout from Jiménez’s stunning late winner. There is plenty of work still ahead for El Tri over the next few days. A place in the World Cup playoff against New Zealand isn’t assured just yet.

 

Only a result in Costa Rica on Tuesday will continue the salvage work — considerably aided by Jiménez’s moment of brilliance — and keep those hopes of a trip to Brazil next summer alive. In order to move forward in their quest, Vucetich and his players must address the positives and negatives from a night they will never forget.

1. Keep the ambition and the shape: Mexico faces a different challenge requiring a more modest deportment when it takes the field in San José, but its desperation-induced win was a refreshing change from the impotence displayed under José Manuel de la Torre. Vucetich underscored his tactical acumen by plumping for a 4-4-2 setup and tailoring it to the players at his disposal. The execution waned a bit in the second half, but the structure offers El Tri a foundation to build upon.

2. Herald the importance of overlapping fullbacks: Considerable space opened in midfield when Miguel Layún and Jorge Torres Nilo ventured into the attacking half. Layún and Torres Nilo supplied that additional dimension by creating room for Javier Aquino and Giovani dos Santos to cut toward the middle and providing good service from the wide areas. Vucetich can persist with the inverted wingers if he chooses, but his reliance on Layún and Torres Nilo appears compulsory at the moment. One caveat: both players must tend to their defensive duties more judiciously away from home.
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Image courtesy Getty Images


3. Reinforce the need to retain possession in midfield: Carlos Peña served as the primary offender in this department, though he certainly had some help along the way. Peña operates with the ambition and the fervor lacking in central midfield for much of this year, but his desire to stamp his imprint on the game often prompts him to concede possession in poor areas. Jesús Zavala covers for him well (more on that bit in a moment) without providing a permanent solution to this problem. Panama did not punish Mexico for this, but Costa Rica could do so on Tuesday.

4. Underscore the need to retain proper defensive shape: Zavala stood out as one of the top performers for El Tri because he adjusted to the demands of the game and played to the strengths of his teammates. Vucetich asked Zavala to operate from a deep-lying position in midfield and slide between centerbacks Hugo Ayala and Rafa Márquez in possession. By adding an auxiliary third center back into the mix, Mexico retained the proper numbers when Rafa Márquez stepped into midfield to distribute or the fullbacks meandered forward.

The calculus changes a bit away from home, though. Zavala will still drop from time to time, but the back four must retain its shape religiously. Rafa Márquez, in particular, must marshal his defense astutely in order to avoid the problems that led to Luis Tejada’s equalizer (primarily a poor clearing header from Ayala, but also poor adjustments to the quick change in possession) and submit the resolute display required to claim a point or three.image

Image courtesy Getty Images

5. Ponder where Chicharito fits into the mix: The clamor for Jiménez’s inclusion increased exponentially when he smashed home that bicycle kick. If he does feature from the start (a risky move that would reduce the problems he causes opponents with his speed late in games), then he would likely replace Javier Hernández in the starting XI. That decision, however, must be made carefully. Hernández functioned well enough with Oribe Peralta, played a neat one-two to arrange Mexico’s only goal from the run of play and posed a threat from time to time. His second half penalty miss betrayed his current dearth of confidence and match practice and counted against him, though.

Perhaps the best course of action for all involved parties – Hernández, Jiménez and Mexico – involves maintaining the newly established partnership and then bringing the young star off the bench. After all, that course of action produced that wonderful goal to win the match, didn’t it?