CONCACAF Cup Depth Chart: Mexico, USA rely on key forwards

Clint Dempsey and Javier Hernández are expected to carry the load up front for their respective countries in the CONCACAF Cup playoff next Saturday.

Drama and intrigue enveloped the Mexican forward corps from the moment Ricardo Ferretti took charge. The basic outline remained the same, but the organizing principles changed when the energetic Miguel Herrera yielded to the more pragmatic Ferretti. The regime change left the pecking order unresolved.

Ferretti took his time to sort through his options. Giovani dos Santos missed out on a place in his first squad. Carlos Vela served as captain for the draw against Trindad & Tobago. Javier Hernández and Raúl Jiménez featured as the front two for the showcase friendly against Argentina.

All of the tinkering created uncertainty in the buildup to the CONCACAF Cup playoff. Is dos Santos capable of forcing his way into the side? Is Vela an integral component or a spare part? Where does Jiménez fit into the picture? And will Oribe Peralta emerge as a factor after missing those friendlies?

The answers beckon as the date at the Rose Bowl approaches. There are difficult choices ahead for Ferretti as he figures out how to form his front two. It is a spectacle bound to continue until the very last moment.

UNITED STATES

Personnel: Klinsmann usually prefers to play two forwards in a bid to bolster his attacking options. More often than not, one forward tends to drop off the line to aid the play in midfield, while the other leads the line and works in the channels. There are times when the Americans feature one up front, but those instances usually occur when either Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey is unavailable.

USA DEPTH CHART – FORWARDS

   
FW Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC) / Aron Jóhannsson (Werder Bremen)

FW Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) / Jóhannsson

Altidore and Dempsey complement each other well and pose a consistent threat to opposing defenses. Altidore remains a willing runner capable of doing the difficult work off the ball and facilitating the play for others. Dempsey operates in the spaces underneath him and searches for chances to impact the game from there.

Aron Jóhannsson heads the list of potential alternatives. Jóhannsson presents a threat through the line with his intelligent runs. Alan Gordon, Chris Wondolowski and Bobby Wood offer options for the other one or two berths available, while Jordan Morris is currently the first-choice forward for the under-23 team during Olympic qualifying.

Strengths: Chemistry is the primary strength in this group. Altidore and Dempsey play off each other well when the Americans break quickly through the middle of the park. Altidore also knows when to check and when to dart behind the line to latch onto a Michael Bradley ball over the top. Dempsey supplies the element of fantasy in the side, the willingness to create something from nothing. Jóhannsson functions cleverly in the final third, even if he does not always produce the necessary end product.

Weaknesses: Depth and pace pose the primary concerns. If Altidore and Dempsey are not firing, then Klinsmann boasts few options to replace them. Jóhannsson is yet to display the desired ruthlessness and prove himself at the international level. The rest of the choices are primarily late match substitutes. As a group, the forwards — with the exceptions of the absent Morris and Wood — lack the pace to truly stretch defenses and rely on timing to accomplish the feat. Finishing is also an issue from time to time.

MEXICO

Personnel: Mexico is blessed with more attacking options than most major countries. Feretti is expected to pick two from his deep group with a considerable emphasis on forging an effective partnership. Former coach Miguel Herrera struggled at times to identify a duo capable of producing regularly when El Tri carried the burden in possession. It is an issue Ferretti plans to examine earnestly before the playoff.

MEXICO DEPTH CHART – FORWARDS

   
FW Javier Hernández (Bayer Leverkusen) / Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)

FW Raúl Jiménez (Benfica) / Oribe Peralta (Club América)

Javier Hernández is usually the first choice on the teamsheet. He is a poacher first and foremost, but his toil off the ball allows him to move into good positions to round off the play. His runs are vital when Mexico is marooned in possession.

The identity of Chicharito’s partner remains up in the air. Raúl Jiménez occupied the other berth against Argentina. He combines mobility with decent hold-up play. Carlos Vela slices into the attacking half from a variety of different angles, but he and Hernández often struggle to combine effectively. Oribe Peralta is more of a traditional target man. He facilitates the play well and presents a considerable aerial threat. Giovani dos Santos adds an intriguing element with his creativity upon his return to the squad, but his willingness to drop off the line occasionally leaves Hernández isolated. Elias Hernández also featured in the 35-man squad, but he missed out on the final roster.

Strengths: Precision and versatility make this group a particular threat. Hernández is a finisher first and foremost and his record for Mexico reflects it. His ability to snatch a goal from nothing offers a safety valve when things break down. Other players offer complementary traits — Peralta’s aerial prowess, dos Santos’ creativity off the ball, Jiménez’s directness — capable of accentuating Chicharito’s skills. The best part for Ferretti: He can turn to his bench and alter the calculus with a similarly capable player if the match demands it.

Weaknesses: Opponents often restrict Chicharito’s influence on the game by limiting the space afforded and restricting the supply in dangerous areas. He offers relatively little if he is not placed in dangerous positions, while he occasionally suffers from wastefulness. If Peralta is not picked, then Mexico occasionally struggles to facilitate the play and pose a threat in the air.

ADVANTAGE: MEXICO

Altidore and Dempsey remain capable of turning a game and propelling the Americans to victory, but they cannot match the depth and the quality within the Mexican ranks by themselves. El Tri is blessed with a surplus of options up front. It is now just a matter of seeing whether Ferretti can conjure up the right combination on the day.