Mexico hopes to ease lingering doubts
Pressure always exists when Mexico takes the field, but a midweek friendly against Peru in San Francisco would usually afford some freedom from those onerous burdens.
Under normal circumstances, this seemingly lightweight encounter probably would unfold in a similar manner to the routine and retrospectively troubling 2-2 draw against Denmark in January. But this match arrives at a peculiar and perplexing time for El Tri and its devoted supporters.
The smooth path to next summer's World Cup has turned unexpectedly rocky. Three draws in three matches to start the Hexagonal represents a poor return given the performances submitted during the semifinal stage last year and the talent within the current squad. It is not quite yet time to panic given the seven games remaining on the schedule, but an ample dose of concern is warranted given the current circumstances.
With the possible exception of the first hour in Honduras, Mexico has failed to hit anything close to top form or show its usual incisiveness in the final third. The results reflect the mediocre performances submitted across the board.
In light of those underwhelming displays, Mexico boss José Manuel de la Torre must find some way to jolt his squad to life once more before the Hex resumes in June. This friendly represents one of the two opportunities to tinker before the potentially vital trip to Jamaica. De la Torre needs to sort out the lingering issues in this match and the May friendly against Nigeria in Houston to ensure no further hiccups detract from the qualification efforts.
Although de la Torre could not call upon his European-based players for this midweek friendly, he chose to include a few of his domestic regulars instead of opting for widespread experimentation. Severo Meza, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Salcido will not feature, but regular starters Francisco Rodríguez and Jorge Torres Nilo and potential contributors Raúl Jiménez and Diego Reyes lead a strong contingent of familiar faces into this fixture.
The return of Cruz Azul winger Pablo Barrera (one of four Copa MX winners included in this squad) represents perhaps the most welcome sight among the new arrivals. Barrera established himself as an effective choice on the right flank for de la Torre before tearing his right ACL in September. He returned to first-team action in late February and rounded into form over the past few weeks to earn a place in this squad.
Barrera's constant movement and neat work on the right flank played a critical role in El Tri's rampant displays last year. He offers a more deft option than former club teammate Javier Aquino and combines capably with Giovani dos Santos, Andrés Guardado and Javier Hernández. If Barrera can prove himself once again on the international stage, then those concerns about fluidity through midfield and into the final third could dissipate quickly.
Other issues will also receive the necessary attention in this one-off tie. Fullback looms as a potential talking point with Gerardo Flores, Israel Jiménez and Efrain Velarde all attempting to establish themselves as potential squad options. Flores and Tigres starter Jiménez, in particular, may receive a chance to state their credentials with Meza omitted and the right back options looking thin at the moment. Héctor Herrera, Jesús Molina and Carlos Peña will jockey for position in the muddled central midfield pecking order with one eye on perhaps winning a spot in the starting XI somewhere in the not so distant future. In-form América striker Jimenez will vie with veterans Omar Bravo and Rafael Márquez Lugo for the role as primary or secondary understudy to Hernández.
Those particular selection issues matter a great deal with Confederations Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying demands ahead over the next few months, but the overall performance and result in this fixture weigh heavily after the recent stumbles.
An impressive display against the Peruvians would not atone for the missteps of the past few months, but it might offer some hope that the recent stutters represent a temporary blip instead of a worrying trend. Anything less than an emphatic result against a run-of-the-mill side stripped of its stars will only exacerbate the current concerns and ratchet up the already significant pressure on de la Torre and his players ahead of the critical matches to come in June.