Gold Cup Team Preview: Mexico / by Sean Steffen

By Sean Steffen (@seansteffen)

Last World Cup cycle, Mexico was an utter mess. The once kings of CONCACAF found themselves finishing in the last qualifying position, after the United States came from behind to beat Panama and handed their bitter rivals to the South a lifeline.

But Mexico wasn’t qualified just yet and still had to play a play-off series with New Zealand. It was at this time that Mexico hired then Club America coach, Miguel Piojo Herrera, to save Mexico. Herrera pretty much just brought his Club America team to New Zealand, a gamble that payed off, but nobody was really sure what the future of Mexico was going to look like going forward.

Group C
CountryAvg AgeAvg CapsELOrankFIFArank
Mexico 27.5 34.6 15 23
Guatemala 27.3 24.9 81 93
T&T 25.7 22 88 67
Cuba 25.9 18 118 107

What Group are they in?
They are in group C, along with Guatemala, Cuba, and Trinidad & Tobago. The group winner will play the 3rd place team of either group A or B. The runner-up will play Group B runner up (probably Canada or Jamaica), and if the 3rd place team qualifies for the knockout round, they will play the group A winner (probably the USA).

Who is their Head Coach?
American fans basked in hilarity of hearing stuff like this coming from their rivals, but El Piojo quietly rebuilt Mexico into the team they ended up being at the World Cup. His 5-3-2 system was not only novel, but it was incredibly nuanced in its attack and proved hard to break down. What’s more, it managed to allow Mexico’s stars to flourish in a way they simply weren’t in the previous system.

Group Stage Schedule
DateTime (ET)CityVenueHomeAway
09-Jul 9:30PM Chicago Soldier Field MEX CUB
12-Jul 9:00PM Phoenix U. of Phoenix Stadium GUA MEX
15-Jul 8:30PM Charlotte Bank of America Stadium MEX TNT

And as good as Mexico was in the World Cup, the team they are bringing to the Gold Cup is easily more talented which is why Mexico is considered by many, including myself, to be the tournament favorite.

How are they are ranked?
ELO ranking: 15 FIFA ranking: 23
Now the format calls for me to go over Mexico’s ELO rating etc, but ultimately this is pointless considering the relatively few games Mexico has played with their big attacking weapons on the field since the World Cup. When the team has played at full strength, they’ve managed some impressive results, most notably a 3-2 win over the Netherlands.

PlayerPositionTeamCountryAgeCaps
Moises Muñoz GK América Mexico 35 13
Guillermo Ochoa GK Málaga Spain 29 66
Jonathan Orozco GK Monterrey Mexico 29 6
Paul Aguilar D América Mexico 29 40
Yasser Corona D Querétaro Mexico 27 0
Miguel Layun D Watford England 27 23
Hector Moreno D Espanyol Spain 27 58
Diego Reyes D Porto Portugal 22 19
Francisco Rodriguez D Cruz Azul Mexico 33 100
Miguel Herrera D Pachuca Mexico 26 3
Jonathan dos Santos M Villarreal Spain 25 24
Jesus Dueñas M UANL Mexico 26 1
Andres Guardado M PSV Netherlands 28 113
Hector Herrera M Porto Portugal 25 24
Jorge Torres Nilo M UANL Mexico 27 39
Antonio Rios M Toluca Mexico 26 7
Jose Juan Vasquez M León Mexico 27 12
Jesus Corona F Twente Netherlands 22 8
Giovani dos Santos F Villarreal Spain 26 85
Carlos Esquivel F Toluca Mexico 33 9
Javier Hernandez F Manchester United England 27 72
Oribe Peralta F América Mexico 31 36
Carlos Vela F Real Sociedad Spain 26 37

Who are the important players that I should know?
It’s an impressive group; however, for those not accustomed to this team, here are are some players to watch:

Vela 2014-2015
G p90A p90G+A p90
0.342 0.128 0.471
xG p90xA p90xG+xA p90
0.231 0.099 0.331

Carlos Vela (F) used to be the best Mexican player not playing for El Tri. Reportedly, he simply refused to play for Mexico after a dispute with the federation over pay. But that was last World Cup cycle. This World Cup cycle, the Real Sociedad forward is back and adds a whole new dimension to El Tri that their Concacaf rivals have yet to deal with. Why? He’s pretty freaking scary. Here are his La Liga numbers.

Dos Santos 2014-2015
G p90A p90G+A p90
0.063 0.188 0.251
xG p90xA p90xG+xA p90
0.266 0.178 0.444

Giovani Dos Santos (FWD) had to shoulder a lot last World Cup cycle with the absence of Vela and the disappearance of Hernández, but as has always been the case with him and Mexico, when he’s on, Mexico’s on. Now that Vela is back, Gio won’t have to do it all by himself which bodes well for Mexico. With his move to the LA Galaxy looking more and more imminent, a solid Gold Cup tournament in the States would be a promising omen for his mid-season move to MLS.

With Javier Hernandez out for the tournament with an injury, these are the two major attacking pieces for Mexico who will no doubt play at the top of their 5-3-2 system. Another player to watch is  Andres Guardado on the left, a player who sports newspaper AD Sportwereld named the Eredivisie player of the year.

In terms of the backline, there are three players for Mexico whose performance may very well determine the effectiveness of their system as a whole. From a purely system standpoint, the spotlight should always be put on the wingbacks of any five-back system. The left wingback will probably be Miguel Layun who has seen a career resurgence over the past couple of years. The right wing back is more of a question mark, but I’ll go ahead and project it’s going to be Paul Aguilar. The effectiveness of Mexico’s system will depend upon getting up and down the field, providing width, and the isolation triangle on the wings (mentioned in the linked article above).  If they can’t do their jobs on both sides of the ball, Mexico will be vulnerable.

The other player to watch is the center-most centerback. In the World Cup this was Rafa Marquez who, despite committing the penalty that was ultimately their undoing, added a unique wrinkle to their attack. At select times, as Mexico’s attack would get stale, he would step up and perform a quasi-regista role, backstopping the midfield and being a deep lying playmaker with his pinpoint long balls.

With Marquez gone, Diego Reyes will most likely be asked to perform the same role and it will be interesting to see how well he can perform this role.  

What have they done in the past?
2013: Lost to Panama 2-1 in the semi-final
2011: Beat the United States 4-2 in the final
2009: Beat the United States 5-0 in the final
2007: Lost to the United States 2-1 in the final

What do we expect from them this go around?
Mexico may be the tournament favorites, but they are not invincible. El 'Piojo has been criticized for being a one system man and there is always a possibility that his unwillingness to switch things up may hurt them at some point. Another danger they risk is the potential lack of chemistry. This will be the first time Mexico has had its full A squad together since the World Cup and the challenge for Mexico will very much be how all the pieces fit together. 

All that being said, and as much as it hurts me to pick against the US, I think they end up raising the Cup when it’s all said and done.