29
Jan

Five points learned from Mexico’s 4-0 victory over Korea Republic

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1. Miguel Herrera places his fringe players in a position to succeed… : Herrera revealed his plans to experiment by posting his starting XI on Twitter Tuesday night. The sage decision to blend core players (Rafa Márquez, Carlos Peña and Oribe Peralta) with fresh faces (Rodolfo Pizarro, Alan Pulido and José Juan Vázquez) offered a timely chance to rifle through the deeper end of the squad and sift through potential options.

2. … and they did about as well as expected: Korea Republic posed problems with its industry and its willingness to operate at a high tempo. Mexico coped with those concerns with some proficiency and eventually placed the Koreans under pressure by using the wide areas. The balance of the game allowed some players to impress. Miguel Ponce capped his impressive 45-minute audition at left wing by supplying a teasing cross for Oribe Peralta’s well-taken opener. Pulido smashed home from close range in first half stoppage time to mark his debut with a goal and then struck twice more in the late stages to grab his hat trick. Most of the other contenders clamoring for a place in the plans adjusted well enough to the demands of the game without bolstering or harming their chances.

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3. Carlos Peña remains the integral piece in midfield: Peña once again drove El Tri toward goal during his first-half appearance. His driving runs attract the opposition and create lanes for others to exploit. The León man doesn’t always hit the perfect pass, but he more than makes up for it by marauding into the opposing penalty area and neatly switching the point of attack. If only the other choices in midfield — Isaac Brizuela in an unfamiliar central role (though his run on the third goal was sublime), then usual partner Luis Montes after the interval — could meet the standard he sets.

4. Where does Diego Reyes fit in the pecking order?: Reyes muddled through this assignment with the proficiency expected of a player lacking match practice. He handled his duties well enough on the night, but he often showed his rust at inopportune junctures. Herrera wisely left him on the field for the full 90 minutes to hone his sharpness a bit. Reyes even assumed the armband from Márquez during the second half. At this point, it looks like Reyes will find his way into the squad. Whether he can carve out a place in the starting XI likely hinges on his ability to force his way into the reckoning at Porto during the second half of the season.

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5. Set piece defending remains a significant concern: Korea Republic spurned two glorious chances to take the lead. Both of the opportunities came from poor marking on set pieces. Korea’s profligacy mirrored its lack of incisiveness and underscored El Tri’s lingering concerns about attentiveness in dead ball situations. Herrera must sort out the problem in short order to avoid potentially drastic consequences in tighter matches at the World Cup.

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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3
Dec

What does Miguel Herrera do now?

imageHerrera was confirmed to stay on as Mexico’s World Cup manager on Monday (Images: Reuters)

Mexico boss Miguel Herrera earned a chance to take El Tri to Brazil by dispatching New Zealand next month. His instant success prompted FMF executives and Liga MX owners to remove his interim tag on Monday and trust him with the mighty task of leading his country into the World Cup.

Herrera must guide Mexico through a convoluted and tricky path between the draw in Bahia on Friday and the first match at an undisclosed location next June. The long and arduous road will determine whether this proud country extends its record of success (five consecutive appearances in the round of 16) or succumbs to the frailties exposed by the Hexagonal.

There is no time to waste to ensure the former scenario ultimately prevails. Herrera will draw up his list of priorities once he completes his Liguilla duties. It should read something like this:

1. Reach an accord with Carlos Vela: The exiled Real Sociedad star functions as an alluring distraction from the matters at hand. Herrera needs his ability to supply additional thrust in the final third. He must figure out a way to tempt Vela back into the fold without sacrificing the boundaries established during his interim tenure. If he cannot coax Vela back to national team duty, then he must draw a firm line under the situation to avoid the recurring sideshows as the preparations commence in earnest.

2. Form the European-based foundation: Vela’s status dovetails neatly with the uncertainty permeating through the rest of the stars flourishing abroad. Herrera omitted every last one of them from the excursion against New Zealand. He cannot afford such a draconian stand ahead of the trip to Brazil, but he must also weigh the benefits, the drawbacks and the realities of their individual situations as well. The inclusions of Giovani dos Santos (creativity), Javier Hernández (precision) and Héctor Moreno (solidity) appear somewhat compulsory given the talent pool. Herrera can adopt a more pragmatic approach to the likes of Javier Aquino, Jesús Corona, Andrés Guardado, Héctor Herrera, Guillermo Ochoa and Diego Reyes as he assesses his options and contemplates how to build a cohesive unit.

imageChicharito Hernandez figures to be a big part of El Tri’s World Cup plans

3. Identify the vital holdovers: The number of foreign-based players included naturally restricts the places available to players selected for the two-legged triumph over New Zealand. A few of those players – Miguel Layún, Carlos Peña and Oribe Peralta feature on that list at the moment – will keep their places. Several others will drop down the pecking order or out of the reckoning entirely. Herrera cannot afford to allow sentiment to take hold here: he must retain only the players capable of transitioning to a higher, World Cup-bound standard.

4. Reinforce the fundamental principles: Herrera can help his own cause by retaining a few of the players from the successful playoff voyage to espouse his ideas over the next few months. The departing Club América manager cultivated a specific approach within his 5-3-2 setup and installed it for the national team prior to the two matches against the All Whites. The presence of several América stalwarts made the process a bit easier. The increased familiarity among the potential squad options permits Herrera to lean on those players for support as he attempts to integrate his foreign-based players into the defined roles suited to their talents.

5. Put those ideas into practice: The last prong could prove the most troublesome given the dearth of FIFA dates between now and the start of the World Cup next June. Herrera must wring every last bit of usefulness out of the scheduled friendly for domestic-based players against South Korea in San Antonio on Jan. 29 and then schedule other rigorous tests along the way to examine his options. The magnitude of the task ahead ensures he cannot afford to waste any opportunity to mold this side in his own image.

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13
Nov

Five Points: Mexico 5, New Zealand 1

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(Image: Getty Images)

Mexico essentially booked its place in Brazil with an emphatic 5-1 victory over New Zealand on Wednesday afternoon.

El Tri finally emerged from its doldrums and swept aside the overwhelmed All Whites to remove any doubt from this potentially tricky tie. Interim boss Miguel Herrera relied on his Club América stalwarts and influential striker Oribe Peralta to cobble together the comprehensive display and render the return leg in Wellington moot.

How did Mexico cast aside its recent struggles and end New Zealand’s hopes of an upset? These five points offer an explanation of the resounding victory at the Azteca:

1. Patience yields production: Mexico probably could have and should have pushed the tempo a bit higher in the early stages, but it instead used its possession wisely and waited for New Zealand to crack. The composure offered a stark contrast to the desperate efforts earlier in the year and reaped significant dividends when the All Whites eventually crumbled.

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(Image: Getty Images)

2. Get it wide, get it into the box: Herrera tasked Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún with pushing high up the flanks and supplying Peralta and Raul Jiménez. Time and time again, they fulfilled their brief. Their willingness to operate in advanced locations pulled apart New Zealand’s shape horizontally (a 3-4-3 on paper that played like a 5-4-1 in practice) and sent them running into dangerous areas. Aguilar scored the first by continuing his run at the back post, while Layún provided the service on both Peralta goals from the left flank.

3. Rely on diagonals to stretch the field … : New Zealand conceded possession and sat deeply for much of this game, but it found itself exposed by Rafa Márquez’s penchant to hit diagonals from right to left. Márquez created the third and fourth goals by playing directly from back to front and switching the point of attack to provide space for Layún to serve into the penalty area. Credit Márquez for leaning on his considerable technical ability to exploit the weakness, but the All Whites really should not have allowed that sort of direct play to unlock its rearguard.

 

(Image: Getty Images)

4. … and take advantage of set pieces: Mexico took charge from dead ball situations – particularly on corner kicks – by ceding some ground to the All Whites and then constructing alternative routes to goal. The most profitable line of inquiry came from playing quickly. New Zealand’s zonal marking system reacted poorly to short corners: the visitors often adopted static positions to cope with developing and fluid situations. The lack of awareness allowed Mexico to curl dangerous balls into the penalty area and score the first and fifth goals from dead ball situations. It proved a rather jarring contradiction to the All Whites’ expected superiority in this department.

5. In this test of depth, Mexico emerged with a resounding victory: Both teams entered this tie at something less than full strength. Herrera left out his European-based players to build a cohesive unit over an extended period of time. New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert omitted injured captain Winston Reid (ankle) and relegated the recovering Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz to the bench.

The gap between the middle of the two player pools showed in this game: Herrera plumped for in-form Liga MX players to carry the day, while Herbert relied on A-League standouts, out-of-contract players and New Zealand-based semi-professionals to fill his void. New Zealand needed the discipline, the fitness and the structure supplied by its stars to conjure up the Herculean performance required to snatch a result at the Azteca. On this day, the All Whites simply did not have the players to compete for 90 minutes. And it showed.

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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12
Nov

Liga MX: Apertura review

imageCan Club America return to early-season form? (Image: Reuters)

The impending World Cup playoff between Mexico and New Zealand obscured the end of the Liga MX campaign with good reason. Club América secured the top seed by what felt like the halfway point in this 17-game season. Half the playoff teams entrenched themselves in the Liguilla places with a handful of rounds to play. Only three postseason spots hung in the balance heading into the final weekend.

A little bit of late drama perked up the proceedings (Chiapas tumbled out altogether after entering the final two weekends in fifth place) and provided a bit of context to a compelling season. Catch up on the proceedings with a look at the key points you might have missed along the way:

1. Club América is the best team in Mexico and it isn’t close… 

América set the tone for the Apertura by dropping two points (a 1-1 draw with resurgent Club León to open the season) in its first seven matches. Miguel Herrera’s side then responded to its first defeat by winning five of its next six matches. Only the wholesale adoption of Herrera and the América starting XI by the FMF prevented the holders from making a serious run at just about every foreseeable record in a short season.

2. … but that fact may not lead to a second consecutive title               

The closing stages of the campaign provided reason for hope: América claimed just one win in its final five outings with its coach and its players distracted by their duties with El Tri. Those missteps came with the top seed essentially sealed, but there are reasons – particularly the setback against quarterfinal opponent Tigres (a difficult opponent given the proximity of the first leg in Monterrey to the World Cup playoff second leg in Wellington) and the suspect record against potential contenders León (the season-opening draw) and Santos Laguna (a midseason defeat) – to suggest the best team during the season may not ultimately defend its trophy.

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30
Oct

Five points to El Tri’s friendly vs. Finland

Mexico interim boss Miguel Herrera spent the past couple of weeks preparing his revamped squad for the modest test ahead against Finland tonight in San Diego.

They must start to show the necessary progress in those labors. This encounter with the domestic-based Finns offers the only opportunity to take the field prior to the World Cup playoff with New Zealand next month. It is not an opportunity El Tri can afford to squander.

Herrera must evaluate his chosen starting XI (more on his team selection in a moment) and sift through his squad. He cannot afford to waste time with a system to implement and more players to integrate with his regulars from Club América. With those tenets in mind, Herrera must ponder a few quandaries as the spectacle unfolds at Qualcomm Stadium:

Mexico (5-3-2): Munoz; Aguilar, Márquez, Rodríguez, Valenzuela, Layún; Medina, Peña, Montes; Jiménez, Peralta

1. Is seven too many?: Herrera opted to include seven Club América players in his starting XI to face Finland. It makes sense to include them to facilitate the transition to the 5-3-2 setup, but their enduring presence raises questions about whether Herrera is making the best use of the resources available to him. His stars must produce against a poor opponent in order to justify his faith and validate his decision to lean so heavily upon them.

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21
Oct

Assessing Miguel Herrera’s first squad selection for El Tri

imageMexico interim boss Miguel Herrera possesses exactly one friendly to build a cohesive unit and install his preferred 5-3-2 formation prior to the World Cup playoff with New Zealand next month.

His best idea to further both of those goals: lean on the players he knows to help espouse the principles he wants to implement.

Herrera named 10 América players in his 22-man squad for the match against Finland on Oct. 30. Those established players will offer guidance to the remaining 12 – including a mix of some veterans and some fresh faces pluck from throughout Liga MX – as Herrera attempts to assess his options now and construct his squad for the opening leg against the All Whites on Nov. 13 later.

Goalkeepers: Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Moisés Muñoz (América)

Consider this choice as a litmus test for the extent of América’s influence in the side. Corona probably deserves the first glance here based upon his displays for José Manuel de la Torre earlier in the year, but Muñoz possesses the faith and the trust of the manager at club level.

Defenders: Paul Aguilar (América), Adrián Aldrete (América), Edwin Hernández (León), Miguel Herrera (Pachuca), Miguel Layún (América), Rafael Márquez (León), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Francisco Rodríguez (América), Rodrigo Salinas (Morelia), Juan Carlos Valenzuela (América)

Herrera named five centerback specialists to comprise the three-man bedrock of his back line. Seasoned operators Márquez (in the middle, for now) and Rodríguez (on the right side of the three) likely hold the inside track to two of those spots. It simply doesn’t make sense to include them in the setup if they aren’t expected to play. Their potential inclusion places a premium on pace to complete the central defensive trio. Aldrete (the interloper) and Valenzuela (the regular choice and the potential favorite to plug this spot until Héctor Moreno is included) split time in the remaining vacancy on the left side of the three for América. Miguel Herrera and Mier present right-sided alternatives.


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17
Oct

USA midfielder Graham Zusi deemed a saint by Mexican fans

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(Image courtesy @SportingKC)

After the United States saved Mexico’s bacon in World Cup qualifying, the response south of the border was incredible.

When American consul Graham Zusi headed his stoppage-time goal into the back of the net, he became an international icon.

Hailed as a hero isn’t much of a surprise, but a saint? It seems like a bit much, but it’s the truth. During training with his club team, Sporting Kansas City, Mexico’s latest religious icon found himself showered with gifts.

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(Image courtesy @SportingKC)

That’s right, a group of El Tri supporters anointed “Saint” Zusi on Thursday, complete with a massive sombrero.

The outpouring of gratitude has been an awesome bonus for the USMNT, but we’re still waiting to see if Panama has an opposite but equal reaction.

16
Oct

The morning after: Mexico thanks the United States for saving their bacon

Judging by the headlines across Mexico, El Tri know exactly who is responsible for keeping their World Cup hopes alive by a whisker.

After a disappointing 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, Mexico’s World Cup lives were at the mercy of the Americans — their greatest, most bitter rivals — who themselves had fallen behind Panama midway through the second half. Had the result held up, Mexico would be eliminated from next year’s summer classic, but a pair of stoppage time goals by Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson marked an incredible comeback that kept Mexico ahead of Panama in fourth place of the qualifying group, good for a two-legged playoff tie with New Zealand to determine one of the last World Cup berths.

As it happened, Mexican commentator Christian Martinoli encapsulated the incredible night while covering both games side-by-side for Azteca TV, screaming:

“We love you for ever and ever! God bless America!

The USA puts us in the playoffs!

It is because of the USA that we are being placed in the playoff … because of them, not due to you! Not any of you in the green shirts. It was them! Not you! They did it, not you!

Remember this forever. Keep this clearly in mind for the rest of your lives. You do nothing for the shirt, you do not put any effort for the team, you have not placed us in the World Cup, you would not have kept us alive.

Mexico is a horror, just terrible. A failure.”

His words, not ours.