FOX Soccer Exclusive
Vela controversy hangs over Mexico
For one night at least, Mexico can temporarily place the raging controversy surrounding Carlos Vela, his latest rejection of his country and his tenuous relationship with national team manager José Manuel de la Torre, to one side.
Vela's decision to remove himself from consideration for the Hexagonal opener against Jamaica in Mexico City next Wednesday provides a backdrop to Wednesday night's friendly against Denmark in Glendale, Ariz., but it cannot not consume the task at hand. In the last match before the important fixtures commence, there are other considerations to contemplate and other players for de la Torre to evaluate without the unnecessary distraction posed by Vela's plight.
Even with Mexico correctly labeled as a prohibitive favorite to claim one of the three automatic trips to Brazil, there are still issues to ponder before Theodore Whitmore's side visits Estadio Azteca. None of the quandaries surrounding particular players and positions will likely derail the qualification process, but de la Torre must still produce sufficient answers in the coming weeks and months in order to ensure this busy year unfolds as smoothly as expected.
Fortunately for de la Torre, he can field the majority of his regulars against this weakened Denmark side and test potential additions within an established structure. The four European-based lynchpins – Giovani dos Santos (Mallorca), Andrés Guardado (Valencia), Javier Hernández (Manchester United) and Héctor Moreno (Espanyol) – will miss this friendly due to club commitments, but the likes of Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Francisco Rodríguez (Club América) and Carlos Salcido (Tigres) supply the necessary consistency to make this exercise worthwhile.
Most of the focus – particularly in the wake of the Vela imbroglio – will land on the continued vacancy on the right flank. The Real Sociedad winger would have slotted neatly into that particular spot. Vela's reluctance to feature and Pablo Barrera's continued recovery from an ACL tear suffered in September leaves the shirt available.
Villarreal midfielder Javier Aquino could celebrate his move to Spain by filling the void as he did against Guyana last year. The 22-year-old winger brings plenty of pace and a decent run of domestic form into this friendly, but he must consolidate his current perch atop the chasing pack – a group that includes the out-of-sorts Ángel Reyna (Pachuca) and the emerging Edgar Andrade (Jaguares) – with an assured performance.
A similar approach from the duo chosen in central midfield might also settle the continued debate about the best course of action in that department. Salcido looks likely to claim one of those spots as Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres) continues to fulfill the obligations at left back. The former Fulham and PSV man isn't a central midfielder by trade, but he possesses the composure and the nous required to keep the play moving and plug the right gaps at the right times.
The other spot remains uncertain as de la Torre continues to cast a wide net to find the player capable of providing the right balance. Héctor Herrera (Pachuca) probably stands the best chance of partnering Salcido against the Danes with Jorge Enríquez injured and Carlos Peña, Gerardo Torrado, Jesús Zavala all omitted for availability or form considerations. Club Tijuana captain Fernando Arce continues de la Torre's fascination with injecting previously discarded veteran midfielders into his setup, but the Xolos mainstay could remain in the squad longer than expected if he dispatches his duties as deftly as he does with his club.
Several other players harbor similar hopes of working their way into the mix. The remaining uncertainties – the fullback and third goalkeeper situations and the state of the striker pool behind Hernandez and Oribe Peralta, for example – and the congested summer schedule may create some opportunities for others to shine with a decent performance against the Danes. There aren't many starting berths in the balance, but a couple of squad places could hinge on how this match unfolds.
And those modest qualms underscore the reasons why Vela's audacious choice continues to dominate the headlines in Mexico. With little else to worry about at the moment, there is plenty of time to hash over the rebuke and wonder what it means for the future of the side at the highest levels. This match may pause the debate momentarily, but its impact – particularly in the event of poor displays out on the right side – may yet revive it as the preparations for Jamaica launch in earnest later this week.