FOX Soccer Exclusive
Mexico seizes chance to experiment
Taking care of business has its perks. Just ask Mexico coach José Manuel de la Torre.
De la Torre guided his team to a berth in the Hexagonal in impressive fashion by posting four wins in four attempts. The resounding success presented de la Torre with an opportunity rarely afforded to managers at the international level: he can now experiment with his team during a pair of meaningless World Cup qualifiers against Guyana and El Salvador.
As one might expect, de la Torre embraced the chance to evaluate the options in his player pool and named several fresh faces in the squad he announced last week. One of the seasoned inclusions, however, may have thrown a few people off.
Only de la Torre can explain why he felt the need to hand Antônio Naelson a thoroughly unexpected recall. The 36-year-old schemer better known as Sinha remains an integral part of the equation for second-place Toluca. His Liga MX form warrants his selection here, but it hardly seems plausible that the Brazilian-born playmaker will feature in his native land in 2014 at the age of 38. At this juncture of his career and with his qualities already well established, Sinha's return to the setup says plenty about de la Torre's assessment of the creative options at his disposal with Marco Fabián and Giovani dos Santos unavailable.
Other selections made more sense in a squad that combines reliable fixtures with rising talents. Adrián Aldrete (Club América), Israel Jiménez (Tigres UANL) and Diego Reyes (Club America) will attempt to carve out a regular place among the defensive options. Jorge Enríquez (CD Guadalajara), Elías Hernández (Tigres UANL) and Hector Herrera (Pachuca) should receive a chance to stake their claims for a midfield berth. Uncapped Club León standout Carlos Peña could join that midfield mix if he transfers his impressive domestic form to the international scene. The European-based contingent of Andrés Guardado (Valencia), Javier Hernández (Manchester United), Héctor Moreno (Espanyol) and Francisco Rodríguez (VfB Stuttgart) remains to ensure the spine won't crumble and the standards won't drop amid the upheaval.
All of those alterations and the retention of first-choice strikers Hernandez, Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey) and Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna) left no room for perhaps the most perplexing figure in the pool: in-form Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela. The 23-year-old has played just twice under de la Torre as concerns about his attitude and his match practice have outweighed his significant talent and his versatility. Vela's reluctance to feature in the Olympics will have done him no favors, but his now-settled club situation and his positive displays in La Liga should keep him on the radar if he makes amends with de la Torre as the Hexagonal approaches next year.
De la Torre likely won't need Vela or most of his first-choice players to navigate through this pair of fixtures. Guyana betrayed its lack of resources by shipping its home tie off to BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston in exchange for a tidy sum paid to its football federation. The rescheduled match on Friday should pose little challenge for El Tri even if de la Torre opts to field a younger side fueled by Olympic starlets. A victory more impressive than the 3-1 win in Mexico City on June 8 appears on the cards against a squad populated predominantly by lower-league and semi-pro players.
This blended group may face a somewhat sterner test against a desperate El Salvador side at the Azteca on Tuesday. The visitors will enter the meeting with a genuine chance to claim a berth in the Hexagonal if they can secure a draw or a victory at home to Costa Rica on Friday night. A win in San Salvador would see them through and render this match irrelevant. A stalemate would likely force Juan de Dios Castillo's side to secure a result in Mexico City in order to claim second spot in Group B (Costa Rica closes out at home to Guyana and will likely win) and move on to the final round of qualifying.
An aggressive and urgent display by El Salvador would provide de la Torre with a good opportunity to assess this makeshift squad under intense conditions. With the Hexagonal beckoning next year and his squad always in need of further reinforcements, de la Torre can use that type of match to sort through the available choices before the more meaningful tests start next year. The tangible evidence may or may not aid in those deliberations, but the mere opportunity to gather it still serves as a just reward for the professional job done up until this point.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.