Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's roster is out for September matches against Uruguay and the United States. It's a strange time for El Tri, with the team seeming to be spinning its wheels.
There was no progression at the World Cup, with the round-of-16 exit to Brazil the country's seventh consecutive elimination at that stage. After a promising project started by Juan Carlos Osorio, the Colombian has elected to look for another challenge.
Where was Mexico at four years ago, and what has changed this time around? Let's take a look at the roster Miguel Herrera called in after the 2014 World Cup. While there was continuity on the coaching staff, it was a similar situation to now: Mexico was months away from its next major tournament, trying to figure out how to take the next step. It also had a player pool with time to mature for the first time in a long time.
Herrera took over midway through the 2014 cycle and immediately had to put out fires, helping Mexico qualify for the World Cup and then prepare for Brazil after El Tri nearly missed out on qualification. This was the first opportunity he had to look at young players, to try out something different. Yet, he didn't take as much advantage of the opportunity as he could have.
The first match after the 2014 World Cup saw Mexico play Chile in Levi's Stadium. The Northern California venue would host the teams again two years later in the infamous 7-0 victory for Chile, but this was a more innocent time. It was a time in which then-El Tri boss Miguel Herrera believed - actually correctly with the match ending in a scoreless draw - he'd be able to keep players like Alexis Sanchez at bay with a center-back trio made up of Maza Rodriguez, Oswaldo Alanis and Miguel Herrera (the then-Pachuca defender, not the manager himself).
Miguel Ponce played as a left wingback with Paul Aguilar on the right. In the center, Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado lined up on either side of Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez, with Oribe Peralta up top and Giovani dos Santos playing behind him as a second attacker.
In the second match, El Tri topped Bolivia 1-0 in Colorado thanks to a goal from Miguel Layun. Luis Venegas started in defense. Remember him? Me neither.
OK, that's harsh. Venegas seems to have been called in by Herrera thanks to a connection with Atlante. In addition to the Bolivia match he also played against Panama and Belarus in 2014, but never played another international minute. He's currently in the Ascenso with the Alebrijes de Oaxaca. In addition to the goal-scorer Layun, Hugo Ayala, Marco Fabian and Javier Aquino both started against Bolivia and went on to play minutes four years later in Russia. Rodolfo Pizarro also started the game, falling just short of Osorio's squad, while Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Oribe Peralta came in as substitutes.
What can the current Mexico team learn from what it did four years ago? For one, Ferretti has it right in taking more risks than Herrera did. Looking back at these squads, you wonder why some of these players were included. Did players like Layun and Herrera, who had played 90 minutes against the Netherlands in El Tri's final World Cup match, benefit from the playing time more than players on the outside looking in?
To be fair to Ferretti, the presence of players like Hirving Lozano, Guillermo Ochoa and Carlos Salcedo this time around make sense not only for commercial reasons but to give the team some experience and also set those players up as the base of the next cycle.
Yet, most fans won't remember these matches when the World Cup rolls around, but players will. The young generation that gets its first minutes against Uruguay or the United States will never forget that moment. It's a good experience to bring players together and to encourage young players to push forward with their clubs knowing the national team is a realistic goal. Teenagers like Jonathan Gonzalez (who already has had a taste of the senior team), Diego Lainez, Roberto Alvarado and Jesus Angulo all have shown promise with their club teams and in youth international tournaments. They can be breakout stars like Hirving Lozano, and there's no point in not using these matches both to test them and encourage them.
There will be a Venegas, a player who we look back on and have all but forgotten. It could be a club situation not working out, a player not applying themselves or a case of someone simply not having the talent needed to play at the international level. That's fine. It's better to try those players out now and realize it's not going to work out later than beginning that process in World Cup qualification.
These matches do matter for Mexico, but they matter less than any other FIFA-date games until 2022. They have a capable guide for now in Ferretti who has put together a roster that can help his successor (should there be one) find success. While issues still persist in the Mexican football setup, and the search for a new manager looks set to drag on for an uncomfortably long time, these games can be the start of something good for El Tri.