The decorations have been boxed up, the lights taken down, resolutions have been made, the parking lots at the local gym have swelled as they are wont to do this time of year, and the cedar (the habanero pepper of pollen) is everywhere. It must be January. But this isn't just any January, it's the January before the World Cup. Needless to say, if you are reading this, then you are counting the days before the world's greatest sporting event kicks off.
For about 8 minutes last October, it looked like Mexico was not going to be invited. But San Zusi scored (sans souci á Panama), Mexico breezed through the home and home with New Zealand and made it to Brazil. With the ticket in hand, and the iterim status changed to permanent, Miguel Herrera has only 5 months, and 1 official friendly (and plenty of extar-official ones to be sure) to determine who will be his best 23 to take to Brazil.
Since this is resolution season, I resolve to be a lot more active in this space as we build toward that wonderful, wonderful 30 days later this summer. One item I hope to feature regularly is the "23 right now" based on how players are (or aren't) doing with their clubs. So let's jump right in
GOALKEEPERS This position might be one of the deeper ones on the squad, but it is as much to do with no one really distinguishing themselves over the others. Moises Muñoz, like Oscar Perez in 2010, appears to be the manager's choice. Which means that Guillermo Ochoa will likely make his 3rd World Cup team by the age of 28 and will probably not play a minute. Jesus Corona likely rounds out the group. KEEP AN EYE ON Jonathan Orozco and Alfredo Talavera. Honestly, all 5 of these guys are somewhat interchangeable, so if someone gets injured or has a massive drop in form....
Miguel Herrera is a Lavolpista, so like his mentor, he favors a 5-3-2 system, which, frankly, is probably the best-suited formation for this group of players.
The back line would then be split into two groups: the central defenders, and the wingbacks.
CENTRAL DEFENDERS Just when everyone thought Rafa Marquez was dead and buried, the former Barcelona star looks to not only be lock to start in Brazil, but also captain the squad as well. To his credit, he have somewhat of a career renaissance with Leon, culminating in the Green Bellies first title in 20 years. Nevertheless, the fact that Rafa has been added back into the fold is a testament to had bad Mexico's back line is, has been, and will be unless some folks step up. Because of the formation, Rafa will not be paired with another defender but grouped with two others. Which is a problem because once Mexico gets past Hector Moreno, the pickings are slim. Moreno is having the kind of season at Espanyol where a move to a more prestigious club is not out of the question. The question here is who will be that third defender? Maza Rodriguez? Hugo Ayala? Jhonny Magallon? Diego Reyes? If 6 have to go, then those 6 would probably be the ones to pack their bags. KEEP AN EYE ON Anyone? Anyone? At this point, any warm body with a Mexican passport who has any semblance of defensive skill would have to be considered. Hiram Mier injured his knee last season and was out for 6 months. If he can recover in time and get back into game shape, he will go to Brazil.
WINGBACKS Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar have the Herrera's confidence, and have proven that they operate much better in the 5-man line than they do in a 4-man line. Layun is a special talent who plays as a right footer down the left side. He crosses well with the left and has a deadly shot with the right. Aguilar is not as complete as Layun, which leaves the door open for competition. If Andres Guardado can learn to be as efficient crossing with his right to complement his deadly left foot, Mexico might have something special on the outside. KEEP AN EYE ON Edwin Hernandez got called up for the New Zealand series and then the Leon man showed Herrera his appreciation by putting the Liga MX final out of reach with a vertitable golazo. Efrain Juarez' form slipped precipitously since 2011, but looked to have turned the corner late in 2013. He has shown he has the talent, and he is still on the right side of 30. MIDFIELD The area of the pitch that was a disaster in the latter stages of the Chepo era looks to be a strength under Herrera. Carlos "Gullit" Peña has thrived under Herrera as much as he was stifled under Chepo. Luis Montes has done well with Gullit at Leon, but he was a non factor in the New Zealand playoff, which does not bode well for him. Hector Herrera is getting more and more minutes at Porto, and has a style of play that would play off Gullit well.
Herrera leaned on Juan Carlos Medina for the playoff, and he while he was certainly an upgrade over both Carlos Salcido and Gerardo Torrado, there are players in Liga MX right now who can certainly overtake him.
Javier Aquino has had a decent season with Villarreal, and Miguel Herrera is soft on Santos' youngster Jesus Escoboza, who not only was a surprise call-up last November, he saw minutes in both legs of the playoff. KEEP AN EYE ON Injuries have limited Jorge "Chaton" Enriquez since he manned the middle in the London Olympics. When healthy, though, there is no better destroyer in the league. And few, if any, have the aerial skills that the Chivas midfielder possess. As good as Gullit and Montes were for Leon, fans of la Fiera are very high on the other guy - Juan Jose "el Gallo" Vasquez. There is always a player who comes out of nowhere in the lead up to the World Cup to sew up a spot. Gallito might be that guy this year.
Marco Fabian has the talent, but may not have the will. A loan spell at Cruz Azul, where Chaco Gimenez has opted to mentor the Chivas product could be his last chance to make it to Brazil.
FORWARDS This might be the deepest front line attack Mexico has had in a several generations, and that means that there may be enough spots for everyone. Right now, there is one lock, and his name is Oribe Peralta. Carlos Vela would be a lock, provided he and the coach and the FMF can get past whatever it is that has prevented him from playing for Mexico for the past two years. Giovani Dos Santos may well be a lock, but while he has been a Villarreal MVP, he spent 2013 as a ghost wearing a green shirt.
It is hard to imagine Mexico playing a World Cup without Javier Hernandez, but he is nowhere near where he needs to be to even merit consideration for a spot on the bench. No Mexican player may be under as much pressure to perform as Chicharito will be in the run-up to the cup. And as we saw last fall, the pressure consumed him to the point that he made some awful unforced errors. Raul Jimenez, on the other hand, rose to the occasion when Mexico needed it most. KEEP AN EYE ON Alan Pulido. The Tigres forward beat out the more expensive foreign player Emanuel Villa last season and knocked in 9 goals. Villa is not even on the roster for the Clausura, so the Volcan is no officially Pulido's domain.
23 in January - List is very subject to change Goalkeepers: Moises Muñoz, Guillermo Ochoa, Jesus Corona Defenders: Rafa Marquez, Hector Moreno, Hugo Ayala, Maza Rodriguez, Jhonny Magallon, Diego Reyes Miguel Layun, Paul Aguilar, Andres Guardado, Edwin Hernandez Midfielders: Carlos Peña, Hector Herrera, Luis Montes, Juan Carlos Medina, Jesus Escoboza, Javier Aquino Forwards: Oribe Peralta, Giovani Dos Santos, Raul Jimenez, Javier Hernandez
We'll address this is a few weeks.