FOX Soccer Exclusive
Mexico picks up impressive results
While some of the players on the field may have changed, the results did not for Mexico.
José Manuel de la Torre's side extended its unbeaten run in competitive affairs to 12 games and finished off the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in style with a pair of straightforward victories over Guyana (5-0 in Houston on Friday) and El Salvador (2-0 in Torreón on Tuesday).
It should come as little surprise that Mexico brushed aside these lesser opponents in simple fashion even, with the experimental squad de la Torre named for these two irrelevant matches. Mexico dominated in possession and tore apart the overwhelmed opponents as expected. The final results probably do not reflect the vast gulf between the teams on both nights.
International bosses rarely receive the opportunity to tinker with their lineups under such favorable conditions. It gave him a chance to evaluate several fringe options, and a cadre of upcoming talents with one eye on next year's Hexagonal. What did de la Torre learn about his player pool during this slate of games?
A look at the starting XI against Guyana on Friday night suggests de la Torre learned little about the future, and did not take full advantage of the situation at hand. Seven players retained their places in the starting XI from the 1-0 victory over Costa Rica on Sept. 11. Two of the alterations – Antônio Naelson and Gerardo Torrado – formed a central midfield partnership with a combined age of 69. Monterrey goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco replaced the omitted number one Jesús Corona between the sticks for a third swap. Only the introduction of Olympic star Israel Jiménez at right back adhered to the idea of ushering in a new generation.
For all of its experience, Mexico lacked the necessary final touch for much of the night at BBVA Compass Stadium. Somehow, it took until the final quarter of an hour to breach the Guyanese defense. Four more goals followed in the next eight minutes to supply an ample margin of victory. There was no harm done on the night and the result was never in question, but the profligacy provided a reminder that this group must hope Javier Hernández obtains regular match action at Manchester United before the Hexagonal next year.
De la Torre perhaps saw the error of his ways and threw several squad candidates straight into the mix when Mexico faced El Salvador. Adrián Aldrete and Joel Huiqui earned places in defense, though promising Olympic star Diego Reyes missed out. Carlos Peña debuted from the outset and joined Jorge Enríquez in a fresher central midfield partnership. Ángel Reyna started on the right flank instead of vying for a place in the center of the park. Chicharito even watched from the bench as the opening whistle blew.
It took a bit of time for this revamped group to settle against the motivated Salvadorans, but the players eventually started to produce. Reyna offered a man-of-the-match caliber performance and prompted most of Mexico's best attacking sequences. Enríquez and Peña probably could have done more to impress, but Peña made his mark shortly before his second-half withdrawal by created a chance Aldo de Nigris should have buried, and won an apparent penalty somehow turned down by the referee. Elías Hernández climbed off the bench to supply fellow substitute Chicharito for the decisive second, while Héctor Herrera also made his long-awaited debut and smacked the bar four minutes after he stepped on the field.
The two matches combined to supply de la Torre with scant evidence to take forward into the Hexagonal. Reyna probably bolstered his stock the most with his pair of displays in the two matches, but the 28-year-old remains a squad player rather than a certain starter, and likely sits behind Javier Aquino in the pecking order on the right side.
No player forced his way into the settled and solid back four. No player stated a case to disrupt the current partnership of Carlos Salcido and Jesús Zavala in the center of the park if de la Torre returns to his 4-2-3-1 setup, though Enríquez will hope to press his claims with assured domestic performances. No player dispelled the notion that Carlos Vela merits a place in the setup for his talents, even if his attitude may preclude it for the moment. No player disproved the notion that this team's ceiling hinges on the fitness and the form of Chicharito and Giovani dos Santos (and perhaps Marco Fabián, if the Mallorca schemer is unavailable).
And those conclusions should sit well enough with de la Torre even if he did not make the best use of this pair of matches. His experimental outfit collected six points without too much fuss. His top players remain the bedrock of the best side in CONCACAF at the moment. So long as the victories continue to pile up when the hard work starts next year, this seemingly futile exercise should still prove useful in as the march to Brazil continues.