The Foreign Legion is in Pasadena
It’s the only FIFA-mandated friendly date before the world cup. There are games all over the world today. All 32 world cup participants will be in action (except for Chile); some against each other. The last match of the day will take place late tonight in a stadium that has given me personally some very good memories (although my last trip was not as pleasant as my previous two). Mexico will take on New Zealand at 8 PM PST (Telemundo, Mun2) tonight at the Rose Bowl. FMF scheduled the All-Whites because they say New Zealand play a similar style to South Africa, the team that Mexico faces in 99 days. That may be true, but my inner pragmatist says New Zealand was the only team that Mexico could convince to go all the way to California on a one off FIFA date.
It wasn’t long ago that Mexico was one of the few teams in a world cup that fielded at team comprised entirely of domestic players. Now Mexico, like most countries, has a legion of players that are earning their pay abroad. All but two are in Pasadena for tonight’s game. A few weeks ago, we took a look at how their respective seasons were going. The news was not good. Things have changed. Here is an update.
Injuries have taken a serious toll on the Mexpats so far this year, but things are finally looking up.
Andres Guardado, who was having a terrific season in Galicia with Deportivo La Coruña before he sustained a thigh injury, came back ahead of schedule and is back amongst the starters. Depor is fighting for a CL spot in La Liga. They may make it, but if Guardado has a good world cup, will he still be playing at Riazor next year?
Guillermo Franco has also recovered from injury and is back at Upton Park. Franco, though, was not called up by Javier Aguirre, presumably to see how Chicharito Hernandez does with the first team. He should still be on the final roster, though.
Rafael Marquez has recovered from last year’s knee injury, but he is having a hell of a time settling with Barcelona. When he does play, it is his inconsistency that stands out more than anything. If Mexico has depth anywhere on the field, it is a the central defender position, so Rafa might be tried in position that has little depth and where his talents and liabilities can be better used and avoided: Defensive Midfielder.
Giovani Dos Santos looks to have put his horrible ankle sprain behind him and starting to earn the trust of his coach and teammates at his new club: Galatasaray. Just last weekend, Gio had his most productive game since the Saprissa Sensation. “I am very thankful for the opportunities Coach (Rijkaard) has given me and am taking full advantage.” We are thankful as well, Gio.
Mexico’s three Dutchies, Carlos Salcido, Maza Rodriguez, and Hector Moreno have all seen plenty of action in the Eredivisie. Maza has been the biggest surprised and could push his way into a starting spot on the back line.
Carlos Vela has had a frustrating year at Arsenal. He has been beset by one nagging injury after another and has not been able to crack the starting line up at all, and when he does play, it is only for about 10 to 15 minutes. However, he has a huge ally in his corner in one Arsene Wenger and signed a contract extension at the end of last year. Vela may not be a starter in this world cup, but he has the talent to be a game-changing second half substitute, much like Jesus Arellano was in France 98.
Two players have not played much at all so far this season: Ricardo Osorio has probably worn down the spot on the bench where he sits during games at Stuttgart, and Jonathan Dos Santos is not surprisingly having difficulty getting PT at Barcelona. Nevertheless, both were called up for this game, and both have a good chance to make it to South Africa. Osorio is in discussions with Stuttgart to be released when Mexico starts is training in April. Jona has the advantage of going up against one of the best teams in the world every day in practice.
The other Mexpat who was not called and is seeing his world cup chances slip away is Nery Castillo. After failing to secure a loan to his former team, Olimpiakos, Nery did not report immediately back with his current team, Dnipro. The door is still open for Nery, though, barely. I would like to see Nery on the world cup squad because when he is at his best, he is a very dangerous forward. But he hasn’t been at his best for at least 3 years due to bad decisions, bad luck, and loss of mojo. Time is running out for him to get it turned around.
Just because these guys play in Europe does not mean, though, that they have a starting XI spot locked up. In fact, the only locks right now are Guardado, Dos Santos, and Salcido. Marquez is probably a lock as well, but he has challengers, so he has to be more consistent.
My starters tonight