Mexico midfielder Juan Carlos Medina ruled out of World Cup with ankle injury

Mexico midfielder Juan Carlos Medina will require surgery to fix a right ankle injury sustained during a training session in Mexico City. 

OMAR MARTINEZ/MEXSPORT

Mexico midfielder Juan Carlos Medina will miss the World Cup with a right ankle injury, according to a statement released by the FMF on Tuesday.

Medina sustained the knock during a training session with El Tri this week. Mexican national team doctors surveyed the damage and told the Club América midfielder he needed surgery to fix the problem. The extent of the injury forced Mexico boss Miguel Herrera to rule Medina out of his 23-man squad for Brazil.

Toluca midfielder Miguel Ponce will replace Medina on the roster, the FMF revealed. Ponce isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Medina in central midfield, but the versatile Sacramento, Calif. native will provide plenty of cover on the left side as Herrera attempts to bolster his squad in other areas.

HIGHS AND LOWS

Medina’s absence leaves Herrera with a considerable hole to fill in his midfield trio. Herrera trusted Medina to serve as the foundation in that group of three, the tactical glue necessary to ensure the triangle remained firm. Medina’s inherent knowledge of the 5-3-2 system from Herrera’s spell at América allowed him to plug gaps intelligently and sweep up any danger created when Luis Montes or Carlos Peña – two players in contention for starting roles in Brazil, though their places are by no means assured – meandered too far afield.

There are no direct replacements given Medina’s familiarity with the demands of his role, but Herrera does possess several options to complete the midfield trio. Héctor Herrera adds a more creative element from a deeper position, though his fragile work in the tackle is an issue and his scant understanding of this system presents some concerns. Carlos Salcido offers an experienced, if somewhat limited, choice as a holding midfielder. He isn’t particularly mobile at this advanced stage of his career, but he did feature frequently in midfield under former Mexico boss José Manuel de la Torre. José Juan Vázquez presents another intriguing option given his inherent chemistry with Club León teammates Montes and Peña, his recent form in Liga MX and his willingness to hold his ground. Vázquez must prove his international credentials quickly given his lack of experience at this level, though.

Each of those choices presents its own corresponding effect on the team shape, but Medina’s removal does provide Miguel Herrera with a chance to shore up the suitability of his midfield department to the exacting World Cup standard. Medina boasts several appealing qualities, but he lacks the athleticism to cover the sort of ground necessary to bring this system to life against top-level opponents The Mexico boss can opt for a conservative option here like Salcido, but he may find greater rewards from more mobile players like Héctor Herrera or Vázquez. Either way, he must choose wisely to protect the balance in midfield and provide the back three with the necessary cover.

Herrera can at least take the next few weeks to contemplate his alternatives and test out potential options. It isn’t ideal to lose a likely starter at any point during the World Cup process, but this particular timeline at least provides ample room for experimentation after Medina’s injury-enforced departure.