A couple of years ago when I was covering the Gold Cup, the one thing that stuck out to me was how well Mexico's midfield worked together. Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro may not have been the fastest players, or the most accurate passers, but the communication between themselves and their teammates was impressive. They destroyed, pointed, yelled, darted forward, kept possession, lost it, and covered when necessary. In other words, they ran the show. A lot fans were quick to point out their faults, but the results spoke for themselves. Mexico's future was bright, but the two conductors were in their 30s. Someone was going to have to step into the role. There were a few candidates.
Jonathan Dos Santos got a look last year. One. The Barcelona player fits the profile and may one day fill the position. But his minutes at Barcelona this season have been non-existent.
Hector Herrera came out nowhere last year to help Mexico win the Olympic Gold medal, but has yet to win his coach's confidence.
Jorge "Chatón" Enriquez seemed destined to be Gerardo Torrado's natural replacement: a superb destroyer and a vocal leader, the middle was supposed to Chatonlandia for the next 10 years. A poorly timed case of turf toe, however, has put those plans on hold for now.
Jesús Zavala has been instrumental in Monterrey's recent run of trophies, but he sustained a knee injury before the Club World Cup and has not quite reached that level since.
Carlos Salcido was a world class wingback before he was moved into the middle by his club coach, Tigres' Tuca Ferretti. World class is not the way I would describe Salcido's play as a midfielder.
León's Carlos Peña, Jesús Molina, and even Gerardo Torrado have logged minutes in the middle.
With no one making any kind of impression, Mexico's coach, José Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre has settled on a Salcido/Zavala partnership. Has it worked?
The results speak for themselves.
Mexico is nowhere near as offensively efficient as they were in that 2011 Gold Cup. They have scored only 2 first half goals in their last 11 games and have only 3 goals total in the 5 games they have played in 2013. The understanding and communication that Mexico's midfield enjoyed two years ago is a faint memory. Their performances this year can be characterized as imprecise and uninspired. And like our fiend Martin del Palacio noted, there is leadership void that has yet to be filled.
I have always likened holding midfielders to an offensive line. You can have the greatest skill guys in the world, but if your offensive line is awful, your skill guys will be inconsistent. If your holding midfielders have issues, your attack will suffer.
After Mexico's 5th straight draw last night vs Peru, Chepo pointed to Mexico's lack of final touch as Mexico's problem last night. Teams will miss more than they will convert, but teams also need to generate those chances.
Mexico's scoring chances have been steadily dwindling as Chepo struggles to come up with right midfield combination. Mexico's World Cup chances will begin to dwindle if he doesn't figure it out.