USA-Mexico friendly perfect time to manage El Tri’s World Cup expectations

Mexico manager Miguel Herrera grasps the need to keep everyone in the proper place during the march toward the World Cup. His decisions are debated endlessly and magnified for an expectant public. The precarious nature of building a 23-man squad under those sorts of conditions requires ample diligence and a considerable amount of care.

As Herrera notes from time to time, he must also display a touch of diplomacy along the way. The former Club America boss isn’t exactly known for his ability to spout cliches, but he understands the right moments to veer away from his blunt tendencies.

The buildup to the friendly against the United States in Glendale, Ariz. offers the perfect time to manage expectations for the 18 players in this brief camp and retain the faith in the other players omitted. Herrera convened a group of domestic-based options for this Clasico to cultivate the base of his side and rifle through his delicately poised fringe players one last time before he starts to make his final decisions.

"I never said that this match would be definitive for them," Herrera said during his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. "I’ll keep watching the league. We will watch them as they try to qualify for the Liguilla in their matches. We will see if they will acquire the level we want them to reach."

In that particular respect, this date against the Americans offers a reasonable measuring stick. Herrera noted the growth of the game in the States in recent years and praised the work accomplished by Jurgen Klinsmann during his tenure during his remarks. It hit a note Klinsmann couldn’t quite find himself as he lamented Chepo de la Torre departure in his own meeting with the media, but it also reinforced the utility of a stern examination against a more cohesive outfit at this stage of the preparations.

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Even at this late date, Herrera wants to see how his group functions within his 5-3-2 setup and operates against a formidable opponent. The scenario provides him with an opportunity to gauge the progress of his side and weigh the merits of several players fighting for inclusion.

"They have to do what they have to do, play," Herrera said. "It’s a game. You can’t tell whether they are good or bad. It just gives me a chance to see them in the system I use and if they adapt or fit in quickly. It’s not an invention. It’s just 90 minutes of football. I can’t teach them anything. The list for the competition is growing."

The belated introduction of Cruz Azul duo Rogelio Chavez (now a viable option at right wingback) and Marco Fabian reflects the expanded pool. Both players will start against the Americans to bolster their hopes of pushing their way into the frame at the last moment.

"We have in mind something that we want to see," Herrera said. "Obviously, if we call in these players [Fabian and Chavez], it is because they are doing good things with their club. We want to increase the competition. When we have to give our list of 30 on May 13, we want to have enough names."

Fabian stands out as a particularly useful option given uncertainty swirling around Giovani dos Santos’ fitness and suitability for exertions ahead. The highly-touted schemer returned to form after making a loan move from Chivas to Cruz Azul at the start of the Clausura. His mobility and his versatility offer a dynamic presence as part of the midfield three or as a second forward.

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At the outset, Fabian will partner Alan Pulido — preferred to Raul Jimenez once more with Oribe Peralta rested after a hectic start to the year — up front. He could later shift into the midfield trio — incumbent Carlos Peralta will link up with hopefuls Isaac Brizuela and Jesus Zavala at the opening whistle — to prove his potential worth as an alternative to dos Santos and as a reserve in a tournament setting.

"The important thing is to see where he can play best," Herrera said. "As I’ve said to everyone, the effort to recover the ball — whether you are a central defender or a number nine — for me has to be just as intense."

Those lessons will hit their mark in goal (Moises Munoz starts, but Alfredo Talavera will play the second half), in five-man rearguard (Topo Valenzuela earns the nod alongside Rafa Marquez and Maza Rodriguez with Chavez the right and Miguel Layun on the left) and everywhere else in the side.

"The door isn’t closed to anyone for the national team," Herrera said. "We already have a list in mind. We have to give our 30 — you will speculate about it more than we will — and we will try to give it in accordance with the FIFA statutes."

Try as he might, Herrera cannot diminish the importance of this fixture to players pressing to keep their World Cup hopes alive. They will buck against this established order and chafe against the strictures imposed, but they are at least situated within the structure at this late stage. It is an advantage they cannot afford to waste if they want to continue their journey toward Brazil over the next couple of months.