Brent Latham: Mexico using summer friendlies to build depth

With World Cup qualifying to begin in June, Mexico is using three U.S.-hosted friendlies to build squad depth.
El Tri’s walkover against Wales over the weekend might not have served Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre for much, given the lethargic, passive, and thoroughly outclassed nature displayed by the Brits in falling to a Mexican side missing a number of key players.

When Mexico is that much better than a middle-of-the-road European team, it does make you wonder where El Tri stands against the big boys of international soccer at the midway point between World Cups. Luckily there are some tougher tests on tap, including Brazil next weekend.

In the meantime, even if little was decided in terms of El Tri’s ability to regain last summer’s form, at least some missions could be accomplished against the tepid Welshmen, and perhaps as well in Thursday night’s scrimmage with another mid-pack European team, Bosnia. Key to El Tri going deep into the World Cup in Brazil will be depth, something which, given the spectacular form of the starters on last summer’s triumphant Gold Cup team, is yet to be worked out under de la Torre.

The coach is still using Pablo Barrera and Gio Dos Santos because, despite a lack of minutes at the club level, they’re plenty productive. That much was plain to see on Sunday. But the reliance on the same familiar lineup is also because no one else has really stepped up to force their way into contention. If Mexico is to arrive at Brazil 2014 fresh and ready to compete, de la Torre needs to encourage competition for spots over the next year and a half.

So Sunday’s warm up for the upcoming qualifiers, as well as Thursday’s match against Bosnia -- and indeed much of initial qualifying round -- will serve Mexico mostly in terms of finding that elusive depth. De la Torre took the first step by calling in a number of new faces for this series of matches. Now he just needs to get them minutes to see where each fits.

In at least a couple of cases, the fit on Sunday looked pretty good, starting in the back with Severo Meza, who put in an excellent shift at right back. A good performance from Meza at a spot that’s been troubling El Tri of late is encouraging, but it’s doubly so when a veteran like Meza get his shot with El Tri and does well.

Meza may not be a permanent first-choice solution at the spot, but on Sunday he showed he can fit in very well in the scheme that El Tri will employ on its way through qualifying for the World Cup. Playing regional teams likely to pack it in, Mexico will need wingbacks capable of getting forward and helping to break down a defense. Meza proved he can do just that at the international level, mirroring veteran Carlos Salcido’s efforts on the left. In situations where El Tri is forced to hold possession for long stretches and probe for openings, Meza has taken the first step towards showing he can shine.

Another player who had a coming-out of sorts on Sunday was Jaguares midfielder Edgar Andrade. Unlike fellow veteran Meza, Andrade does have a Tricolor pedigree, as part of the 2005 U-17 World Cup-winning team. But he’s only now earned his way into the plans with the full national team level.

With an impressive enough performance playing as an inverted winger on the left side, Andrade made an argument for more chances. He incorporated well into the attack and got on the end of some dangerous chances, though his finishing wasn’t on against Wales. What would have to be seen as a left-side experiment worked reasonably well, given that Andrade is more comfortable on the right. But his showing on the inverted flank suggested he may become a useful option off the bench or as a backup across midfield.

Finally, in terms of backup options, what can you say about Aldo De Nigris? The tall striker barely showed for most of the match, but when he did it was to put the ball in the net -- twice. De Nigris’ goal-scoring proficiency at the national team level has to impress, and though he’s never likely to win a permanent starting spot given that Chicharito plays the No. 9 position as well, it’s clear that the Monterrey man (for now) can play a needed role off the bench or as an alternative up front.

To qualify all this, one game hardly determines an international career. The likes of Luis Perez had a more discreet run, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be useful in coming matches. Israel Jimenez and Gerardo Lugo could just as well come out Thursday and impress just like Meza and Andrade did on Suday.

But overall, if the project for the summer of 2012 is to build a little depth in El Tri’s senior ranks as the team rumbles towards Brazil 2014, it looks like de la Torre is well on his way.