Mexico's talent breeds high Gold Cup expectations
When the Mexican national team begins Gold Cup play this weekend, the defending champions will have their eyes set on one goal: protecting their CONCACAF crown by winning an unprecedented sixth Gold Cup title, and doing so in convincing fashion.
Many are proclaiming this year's Gold Cup edition to be the most competitive to date. With a regional championship and a 2013 Confederations Cup qualification birth on the line, experienced teams like the United States, Costa Rica, and Honduras are primed to take Mexico's Gold Cup title and challenge Mexico's regional primacy.
With the predicament of suiting an Under-22 squad for July's Copa América, newly appointed manager, José Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre, has selected the best and the brightest group of young talent to defend Mexico's 2009 Gold Cup title.
El Tri will be led by young starlets Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez (Manchester United), Giovani dos Santos (Tottenham), Andres Guardado (Deportivo La Coruña), and veteran standouts Rafael Marquez (New York Red Bulls) and Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul). With respect to all the aforementioned players, 'Chicharito' has garnered majority of the media attention and has been touted as the star player for Mexico in this tournament.
After a successful first campaign with United, the 23 year-old Hernandez is prepared to participate in his first Gold Cup and help El Tri win gold in 2011. As his 21 goals in top-flight competition this season suggest, 'Chicharito' possesses the natural skills, instincts and athletic ability that the Mexican national team has looked for in a striker for years.
With Hernandez's starting role practically sealed at the forward position, Mexico's offensive scheme will rely heavily on teasing flank play and dazzling foot speed. De la Torre's successful 'double pivot' system (4-2-3-1 formation) will be on full display as dribble technicians Dos Santos, Guardado, and Pablo Barrera (West Ham United) will have opportunities to supply forwards 'Chicharito' and Aldo de Negris (Monterrey) with the service needed to score.
Even then, El Tri's true strength relies on a tough-nosed central midfield and a stingy defensive back line. Veteran midfielders like Torrado, Marquez, and Israel Castro (U.N.A.M.) often dictate the pace of the game, offering probing passes to wingers and strikers alike. At the back, Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez (PSV) and Hector Moreno (Alkmaar Zaanstreek), both experienced Eredivisie defenders, are more than capable of holding their opposition at bay.
The main question surrounding the Mexican national team before the Gold Cup was regarding the goalkeeper position. Once viewed as the undisputed number one goalkeeper for El Tri, Guillermo 'Memo' Ochoa (América) has won the starting job over Jonathan Orozco (Monterrey) and Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), resulting from José de Jesús Corona's (Cruz Azul) disciplinary suspension from the national team. Ochoa will once again have the chance to prove his skills on a big stage and see if he can regain the dominant form that once made him one of the biggest prospects in Mexican soccer.
For Mexico, anything short of a Gold Cup final will be viewed as an utter failure. El Tri has a straightforward draw in group A by facing El Salvador on June 5 and Cuba on June 9. Mexico and can virtually clinch a quarterfinal spot before facing the talented Costa Rica side on June 12.
Overall, the Mexican national team should be expect to have a successful 2011 Gold Cup run. Widely considered as the best Mexican team ever assembled for a Gold Cup, El Tri will undoubtedly benefit from the large Mexican fan bases across the United States. But the ultimate factor that will determine Mexico's defense will be if the young offensive nucleus of Dos Santos, Guardado, and 'Chicharito' can dominate and convincingly overwhelm their CONCACAF rivals.
Charles Ventura is a freelancer writer contributing Mexican national team coverage to FOX Soccer.