In the lead up to Germany 2006, our good friend, Pele, was in Mexico on a publicity tour for one of his sponsors. When asked about what he thought of Mexico's chances at the World Cup, the ever diplomatic O Rei said that Mexico had a good starting XI, but not much else. I am paraphrasing, of course, but he wasn't wrong.
Depth has historically not been one of Mexico's strengths, but it has gotten better over the past few years. It's no surprise then, that Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre called up nearly half of Mexico's Gold Medal winners (three of whom had played for the senior side before). Mexico is much deeper than it was in 2006, and that hypothesis will be tested this week as Mexico heads down to Costa Rica for the first half of their Tico Two-step in World Cup qualifying.
The last time Mexico went to Costa Rica, they were in 4th place in the 2010 Hexagonal. But a breath taking performance by Giovani Dos Santos, he scored once and set up two tap ins, put Mexico on track to qualify for South Africa. Costa Rica, on the other hand, never fully recovered from the 3-0 loss, went from 1st to 4th and ultimately got bounced from the tournament by Uruguay. This time around, though, Gio, who has since consolidated himself as Mexico's best player, will not be around to fire off those lethal counters that crushed the Pura Vida defense three years ago in Saprissa. The 23 year-old injured his leg in the Olympic semi-final tilt vs. Japan, and then re-injured himself in Tottenham training before being sold off to Mallorca before the transfer deadline.
Who will take his spot then? Angel Reyna got the first crack in replacing Gio last month, but the Monterrey man did not impress in Mexico's friendly loss to the yanks.
And then there is Marco Fabian. The Guadalajara star played Gio's position for Mexico's Olympic team up until the Olympics and all he did was tally a dozen goals and set up a few more. At the Olympics, he moved to the left wing to accommodate Dos Santos, but was called back to the "10" spot in the final, where he acquitted himself nicely: he served up Oribe Peralta's Gold Medal-winning goal with a superbly placed pass, and had an acrobatic bicycle kick shot denied by the cross bar.
Despite not seeing the field too much in his failed attempt at European glory, Pablo Barrera remained one of Chepo's favorites. Even with lackluster efforts earlier this summer, Chepo stuck with Barrera, much to most of the fans' and media's chagrin. The Pumas product returned to Liga MX to play for Cruz Azul and looked like he was on his way back to reaching the level of play that landed him on the national team in the first place. Unfortunately, Pablo Dinamita sustained a torn ACL ligament in his knee and will be sidelined for six months. It is his second such injury. Suerte, Pablo. Come back soon.
Here is where it gets tricky. Chepo has a couple of options to consider for Barrera's replacement. Does he go with Elías Hernandez, the Tigres midfielder who has shown flashes of brilliance, but not consistently enough to remove Barrera from the starting line up? Or will he opt for Javier Aquino, the diminutive Cruz Azul Olympian who is the right-footed version of Ramón Morales? Aquino had a terrific Olympic tournament where he showed notable improvement on the defensive side of the ball. It was his hustle to jar balls loose vs Japan and Brazil that led to a pair of Oribe Peralta strikes.
Defensively, Hector Moreno has been dealing with some back issues at Español, and if it turns out that he is not fit enough to take the field in Costa Rica, Chepo can opt for Hiram Mier. The Monterrey man was impressive at the Olympics, most notably against Brazil, where he stonewalled the Brazilian without having a single called against him.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention that another player is back for another call-up. Gerrado Torrado is back on the squad after dealing with a series of injuries. Some will say it is because of a lack of depth at his position that Torrado has made it back to the Tri. He is in his mid 50's, after all. Fair enough, but it also must be noted that Jorge Enríquez, who many considered the Olympic squad MVP, and Hector Herrera, whose box to box play has made him both a media and fan darling, are both out with torn a meniscus in their knee.
Despite the significant absences, Mexico should have the horses to get a result in San José, where they have not lost in 20 years. But recent history shows that history doesn't mean squat.