With the knockout rounds looming, Chepo has several decisions to make to sort out his best 11.Second place in Group A wasn’t where Mexico wanted to finish the first stage of the Gold Cup, but coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre has withstood a substantial amount of pressure to get this far and Mexico remains on course to lift the cup for the third consecutive time, at least on paper.
It has become obvious, however, that further improvements are a must for Saturday’s quarterfinal against Trinidad and Tobago, not necessarily for the threat the Caribbean side poses – the Soccer Warriors lost 2-0 in the group stage against Haiti and should be comfortably disposed of by El Tri – but because there will be much less room for error in a potential semifinal against Panama midweek and a possible final against the United States.
Chepo still needs to nail down his best side as the business end of the tournament approaches and defining it against Trinidad would be a good start.
In goal, Moises Munoz took over from Jonathan Orozco in the 3-1 win over Martinique, but reading between the lines of what Orozco told the press Thursday, it was simply to give Munoz game time.
Orozco seems the safer bet, especially after Munoz’s jaunt over to the corner flag, which almost gave away a goal last Sunday. The Monterrey ‘keeper’s distribution also hands him a big advantage against weaker opposition.
At the problem position of right back, Miguel Layun has merited another shot, especially with his attacking surges that have caused opposition problems, but remains a liability in defense, as the Martinique penalty showed. Tigres’ Olympic gold medal winner Israel Jimenez has fallen off the radar gradually in 2013.
The central defensive partnership of Joel Huiqui and Juan Carlos Valenzuela has been together for the last two games and while there have been some basic errors and Leobardo Lopez may deserve a chance, it is probably best to let the duo continue to gel against Trinidad and Tobago.
The left back position is a shoe-in with Adrian Aldrete quietly getting on with his shift and impressing all tournament and Miguel Ponce widely seen in national team circles more as a left winger.
In the center of midfield, Chepo often likes to play two defense-minded players, but with the opposition and players in the squad, the Alejandro Castro and Carlos Pena option fits the best.
Castro’s ability to play both in front of the defense and as a center back means he can drop back while full backs Aldrete and Layun attempt to over-run opposition further up the field on the flanks when in possession. Playing him also compensates for Huiqui’s occasional surges forward.
Pena, on the other hand, can drive forward and press higher up the field when the opposition has possession and offers much more going forward.
In the final third, there seems to be a need to shift things up, with Rafa Marquez Lugo the weak link so far, despite his good Clausura season with Chivas.
If Chepo should drop the Chivas striker, there are plenty of options, but the best one could be to introduce the speedy and skillful Isaac Brizuela in his place and shift the flying Marco Fabian behind Raul Jimenez.
Brizuela has enjoyed a break-out season at Atlas and has the ability to destroy far better defenses than that of T&T, although Chepo has seemed strangely reluctant to play him in the Gold Cup so far.
Another option would be to start the in-form striker Javier Orozco and play Jimenez as the second striker, keeping Fabian and Luis Montes nominally on the wings, from where they have wandered infield during the Gold Cup to allow the full backs space to overlap.
Whatever Chepo decides, now is the time to define the best XI that this Mexico squad has to offer, with the United States marching on and El Tri with lots of issues to resolve.
||Juan Carlos Valenzuela||Adrián Aldrete|
|Carlos Alberto Peña||Alejandro Castro|
|Luis Montes||Marco Fabian
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