Mexico looked impressive in a 3-1 win over Ecuador, but a stomach-turning injury to Luis Montes dominated the attention.
Javier Aquino will likely be the replacement to join up with the Mexico squad in Montes’ place, but Miguel Herrera was visibly upset in his press conference after the game and will hold a meeting with the players on Sunday to make sure they regroup and focus on the coming weeks after losing a popular member of the squad.
But while the injury to Montes was the principal story from the game, when Herrera analyzes the match in the cold light of day, he will have been very happy with much of what he saw.
In goal, Guillermo Ochoa was largely a bystander, but made one crucial save in the 75th minute. It’s difficult to read what Herrera will do when it comes to June 13 against Cameroon, but Ochoa certainly did himself no harm.
Hector Moreno produced the kind of performance that is expected of him, but Rafa Marquez was taken off at halftime with an injury – with no reports as yet of how long he’ll be out - and Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez has had better days, opening the door wider than ever to Diego Reyes for the starting spot.
Hector Herrera dealt well with the holding midfield role and Mexico looked solid during the first half. On the ball, Herrera showed invention and decisiveness, but concerns will linger about whether he can cut it defensively in terms of positioning.
In front of Herrera in midfield, Montes scored a great goal to put Mexico 1-0 up and will be a significant loss. The silver lining of the bad news is that Marco Fabian is in form. The Cruz Azul forward staked his own claim for a starting spot with a top performance and a goal of class.
Alongside Montes, Carlos Pena was decent but probably isn’t fitting into the midfield jigsaw that Herrera has to put together considering his lack of recent form.
In Giovani Dos Santos’ World Cup audition, the balance was very positive for the Villarreal striker, with the 25-year-old bright in his play and carrying his club form into the national team. He netted a goal that was his first for El Tri in almost two years.
Questions naturally still remain, but Herrera’s hand was strengthened on Saturday.
The confidence the players will have received from defeating a strong Ecuador team – albeit one that rested some key players – shouldn’t be underestimated in this short process in which Herrera is trying to knit together a team with little time to spare.
Next up for Mexico is Bosnia-Herzegovina in Chicago on Tuesday, then the final test near Boston on Friday.
It would be a major boost to Herrera to go unbeaten in both those games and head to Brazil with a confident group of players.
Saturday’s victory was a major plus for El Tri, with the obvious and devastating exception of Montes’ injury.