PorTri was PorToast.
With four Mexico national team players on the books, Porto acquired the nickname in the Americas, nodding at the number of players from El Tri suiting up for the Dragons. At the start of the 2017-18 season, though, there was no Mexican spice in the team.
Now, ahead of Porto's round of 16 first-leg match against Liverpool, the flavor is back. Midfielder Hector Herrera should start and captain the team, winger Jesus Corona will put in a shift and even center back Diego Reyes may play a role after spending the first four months of the season rooted firmly to the bench.
It's a total turnaround from the start of the year. Corona was seeing sporadic minutes from new manager Sergio Conceicao, but Herrera was struggling for minutes while Reyes and defender Miguel Layun were rarely considered. Then, Conceicao was handed his first taste of the UEFA Champions League as a manager, a 3-1 defeat in the Estadio do Dragao that was dominated by Besiktas. The next match, Herrera was back in the XI wearing the captain's armband. Shortly after, Porto traveled to Monaco and earned a 3-0 win to get back on track in the Champions League. They've lost just twice in all competitions since that defeat to the Turkish club, falling away to RB Leipzig and losing a shootout in the final of the league cup.
The margin for error in Portugal is extremely small among the top teams with Porto watching the title slip away from their grasp last season despite losing just twice. Without any other trophies to show for the 2016-17 campaign, Nuno Espirito Santo was shown the door with Conceicao replacing him. He's yet to oversee a league defeat and has the team in the semifinal of the Taca de Portugal in addition to being the only team from Portugal left in the Champions League.
Winning the confidence of the former Porto and Lazio winger has been critical for the Mexican trio to get back into rhythm. (Miguel Layun never was able to get past top fullbacks Alex Telles and Ricardo Pereira and was loaned to Sevilla in the winter). It's critical as well for them to get into that rhythm with all three set to be key contributors for Mexico at the World Cup and likely starting most of El Tri's matches.
"The manager's work has been very important for the season we're having in the league as well as in the Champions League," Herrera told UEFA's official site. "His methods are simple but effective. I really like the personality and character he has. I think it's something really important and something the club had been missing."
Herrera has become a fixture at a club better known for flipping players than establishing any sort of longevity. The Baja California native moved from Pachuca in 2013 and has ended up staying at the club. There have been rumours about a move away, with Herrera linked to Milan, Napoli and Wednesday's opponent Liverpool in previous transfer windows.
Reyes, on the other hand, is a relatively new face at Porto and has flirted with a permanent move away after loan spells with Real Sociedad in 2015-16 and Espanyol in 2016-17. He had fewer than 300 minutes entering the holiday season but an injury to left center back Ivan Marcano has paved the way for Reyes to start much of the past two months. Marcano is back in training this week and could face the Reds, but Reyes' return to regular time has been a lifeline. Reyes also can play in the midfield but has often bounced between the two spots, failing to get consistency for Mexico. The regular time in the same position has made him feel grateful to Conceicao for turning to him.
"He's a demanding person who likes things to be done well. I'm happy he's given me minutes, that he's given me a chance to show myself," Reyes told Fox Deportes last month. "I think every one of these minutes are very valuable for me, even more so in a team where there's so much internal competition. I have to take advantage of every minute and try to catch his eye by surpassing his expectations."
Whether or not Reyes gets the nod Wednesday won't be an indictment on whether or not Conceicao has been impressed. Reyes has made the most of his minutes, playing stern defense and also adding a goal against Braga earlier this month.
Corona has been a constant, generally not going the full 90 minutes but coming in as a super sub or trying to generate chances from the opening minute before making way after an hour. It has been a difficult season for the 25-year-old, who missed the Confederations Cup with a personal issue and then once again left Mexico camp in November. After a storm of criticism, the Mexican federation elected to make public that Corona's wife had suffered a miscarriage. Despite the hardship, he's on the way to topping his numbers from last season with two goals and three assists so far this season.
All three Mexico internationals could see minutes in Wednesday's first leg, and that's generally been a good thing for Porto this season. There are certainly other players who have contributed to the excellent season thus far. Moussa Marega and Vincent Aboubakar lead the team in scoring in league play with Aboubakar also boasting five Champions League goals. The aforementioned fullbacks spend ages in the attacking half and overload opposing defenses. Danilo Pereira performs a similar role next to Herrera, with the two fluidly moving between attack and defense. Still, the Mexicans in the team have given Porto yet more assets to call upon when Liverpool visits Wednesday.
"I think it's a great game, everyone wants to play this type of game and more than anything play against this type of opponent. We have to go for everything. We can't speculate and see what happens. We've got to go out there and play our game and try to hurt them, not wait for them to come at us," Herrera said. "We're confident we can get out of this tie. We know it's going to be very, very difficult, we'll have to study the opponent really well and see how we can plan the match in a way that benefits us."
So far in the Conceicao era, that's been with a bit of flavor from his Mexican imports. PorTri is back and ready to help the club in its most important match of the 2017-18 season.