Some of y’all may or may not agree with me, but I have always considered the defensive midfielder position to be the most overlooked on the pitch. Having good DMs is a lot like having a good offensive line. They both toil in muck and mire of the trenches, create the time and space to allow the “skill” players to do what they do best, and rarely, if ever, receive the credit they deserve. Naturally, if the big uglies get any kind of recognition at all, it is usually when they make a mistake – a bad giveaway, or allowing a sack. Fouls and flags? Sometimes it's what's better for the greater good.
Worst of all, we don’t really appreciate how good we really had it until they are gone.
A few weeks ago, Cruz Azul lost Gerardo Torrado to a knee injury. It was an MCL sprain, and he was still going to be out at least a month. Luckily for the cementeros, they had a few warm bodies they could throw out on the field to help them get over the loss.
The same can’t be said for the Mexican National team.
Mexico is flush with skill players (it shocks me every time I type it), but if there is one area where depth was a real concern, it was the DM position. Losing Torrado ain’t gonna help. Believe me, I am not saying that Mexico’s chances hinge on the health of Gerardo Torrado. However, he has been riveted onto the national squad since the turn of the century and has played in three world cups.
If he is questionable for the Gold Cup, are there any holding midfielders in Mexican futbol that have the capacity to replace him and play along Israel Castro?
It was Israel Castro, not Adolfo Bautista, that beat out Jonathan Dos Santos, for the last World Cup roster spot last year. Nevertheless, Castro did not figure much into Aguirre’s world cup plans, and saw little action. The Pumas captain rebounded this season and has been instrumental in Pumas’ current clausura success. He does not have the vision of Marquez, or Torrado’s tenacity. He does have tireless legs, and a great ability to snuff out counter attacks. And let’s face it, outside of defending set plays, the counter is Mexico’s other defensive Achilles heel.
The first choice to play along Castro is Rafael Marquez. The NYRB had his best World Cup holding the midfield in South Africa, but has since retreated, for both club and country, back to the back line. He certainly has the capacity, but Chepo de la Torre may be concerned more for his defense than his destroyer. Torrado, Castro, and Marquez are all on the wrong side of 30. They will be fine to play this summer, but the phasing out process will have to start sooner rather than later. The candidates….
The other midfielder that was on the pitch for the better part of South Africa was Efrain Juarez. The Pumas product cashed in on his performances with a jump to Celtic. He saw plenty of action in the early part of Celtic’s season, but has since gotten so cold, the bench warms him.
Toluca’s Antonio Rios seemed to be getting groomed to take over in the midfield at the first of the year, but has since dropped off the map for both Mexico and Toluca. He has not played in a month. He has the tools to figure in the future, but it looks like he’ll be spending his summer getting ready for Toluca’s next season.
Another to keep on eye on is Monterrey’s Jesus Zavala. He is tall, has the necessary skills, and an excellent soccer IQ. He is very raw, has little international experience, and was very disappointing as sub last week in the Conca-finals first leg. Like Rios, he’ll get a longer look down the road.
And then there is Jonathan Dos Santos. It is amazing that despite all the hubbub that surrounds this guy, he has yet to suit up for Mexico when a game counts. This summer, he is slated to be the anchor of Mexico’s midfield in Copa America. We hope. We may not believe it is actually happening until he is on the field in Argentina.
Of the four, Dos Santos appears the most likely to put roots down in Mexico's midfield for the next ten years. And if he does, it will have started for him just like it did for Torrado, spending a summer at the Copa America.
I want to welcome Martin del Palacio to our family of bloggers here at bigsoccer. I have considered Martin’s columns appointment reading for the past few years, so I am happy for him that he can share his thoughts with the greater bigsoccer community.