(Estadio Olimpica Metropolitano in Honduras. This isn’t going to be easy)
Who: Mexico vs Honduras
When: Friday, March 22nd at 2 p.m. (Pacific Time)
Where: San Pedro Sula, Honduras at the Estadio Olimpica Metropolitano
Are you ready? Buy some drinks, some snacks, and maybe even some tissues because this is probably going to be Mexico’s toughest away game during the final qualifying round. Let’s give some background here. As you may have heard, we don’t do that well when playing in Honduras. We’ve played a total of nine games there and have won only three of those nine. Oh, and by the way, those three games we won were in 1935, 1965, and 1993. Since our 4-1 win in 93’ we have lost four straight in Honduras. After their recent 2-1 defeat of our northern rivals last month, Los Catrachos are going to be looking to extend their home streak. It’s gonna be tough and the weather will be even tougher.
Let’s check out both squads as they prepare for a crucial game this Friday.
(I wouldn’t be all too surprised if this will be me fifty years from now)
As far as things can go before the match, we are actually looking quite well. While I do have my complaints about certain players who have been included (our friend over at Soccer Mexicana does a great job of describing a couple of those interesting player decisions) and of the formations that Chepo has been using, we’re looking quite stable. Especially if you recognize what is happening in the U.S. right now.
Considering the players that Chepo has chosen, along with the difficulty of the upcoming scenario, expect to see some veterans given a little more playing time on the field (Exhibit A: Maza gets to keep the captaincy even after his most recent performances and the “finger injury”). It’s probably going to be a more defensive game than we would like but a tie for Mexico wouldn’t be seen as a failure from Chepo’s perspective. Here’s what he will probably go with:
I’m still thinking that he will use a 4-4-2, but Peralta’s injury might motivate him to try something else. With the inclusion of so many central midfielders and central defenders on the roster, Chepo could possibly move Dos Santos out to the right side and sneak in somebody like Herrera or Reyna in the middle. Another possibility he might be looking at is having three defensive players in the back (Moreno & Maza with the possibility of Reyes or Magallon), which would bring in another player in the middle of the field. Chepo is a creature of habit and is usually very predictable with his decisions, yet with Peralta missing, a change in his tactics might happen.
This is the most benign of all problems that we as a team are facing. It’s as if my girlfriend runs up to me and asks whether I want vanilla or chocolate ice cream? I get ice cream?! Awesome! I also get to choose which one I would like, can I have both? If only that were possible for us (would we call him Guillermo Corona or Jose Ochoa? We’ll let the scientists decide).
I would slightly prefer Corona because of his form as of late with the national team but also understand why Ochoa deserves a chance in the net as well. For their respective clubs, I believe Ochoa is head and shoulders above Corona. The guy is one of the top keepers in Europe right now, has been linked to a signing with Liverpool, and shut out Zlatan Ibrahimovic multiple times in one game.
For a keeper that starts on the national team, Corona has allowed far too many goals this season. If you compare the keepers who have competed in every game of the Liga MX season so far, Corona is ranked at #12 when it comes to goals against on average (1.45). That being said, he has been immaculate with the national team which is why I would probably start him, but I wouldn’t be bothered at all if Ochoa got in instead.
Ah yes, this is when we start to see problems, don’t we? During the games against Jamaica and Denmark, we were at our weakest in the back, and especially on the right wing and the middle. With Aguilar out of the picture, Meza will need to step up on the right side. Severo was consistent on shutting down opponents during his call-ups last year and even provided some extra attack on the wings. As long as he can track back in time to defend, we should be fine.
In the middle, Maza and Moreno will more than likely be set to start. With Chepo stating that Maza will remain captain, along with his obvious preference for experience over youth, expect Diego Reyes and Hugo Ayala to maybe get playing time, and that’s a big maybe. Jonny Magallon is the surprise invite to this defensive party. Magallon could be added either to the right or the middle and once again shows Chepo’s reliance on veterans to get the team through these next two matches.
Torres Nilo should have his spot set on the left side but he has also fallen to prey to fundamental mistakes during the last few games. Salcido could possibly take over if necessary but in San Pedro Sula (you should go check out what the weather will be like once again), I would rather have somebody who has a little more pace in the back.
We’ve got plenty of talent in the midfield, but nobody seems to know how to properly utilize all of the players that we have. Then once we figure that out, we need to figure out the formation we would like in the middle. Two defensive center backs and one attacking? Two midfielders laying flat? Two wingers who also play more central? A cleat, three shin guards and a headband on the wing?!
On the right hand side we have Aquino, Herrera, and Dos Santos. Aquino seems to be shoe-in at the moment although we’ve seen Dos Santos play on the right hand side as well recently. While I like Herrera’s pace, I think he would be better suited in the middle. Dos Santos would be effective on the right, but I believe we hinder his creativity when we isolate him there. Aquino’s speed and endurance will be perfect against Honduras and worthy of a spot on the starting 11.
On the left, Guardado should be set to start, but it wouldn’t be unwise to reconsider. His form with Valencia recently has been somewhat off and he might have had the worst game I’ve ever seen him play against Jamaica. Guardado has had a slight dip in form for club and country recently which may mean some potential playing time for Angel Reyna on the left-hand side. Reyna could provide the extra push that we’ve been lacking recently in our attack.
The middle is the heart and soul of the national side. Games are won and lost through this vital area of play and Honduras will not be afraid to go straight through it. Unlike other CONCACAF teams, Honduras will show no reservation in their attacking game, especially at their home stadium. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record now, but I believe that this is why we NEED to use 4-2-3-1 (or any other formation which has three central midfielders) during this game. Against Jamaica our four midfielders looked awfully flat and if we were to use the same formation against Honduras, we will be torn apart.
Chepo has had success in the past with Zavala and Salcido in the middle, which is why I believe he will decide to follow through with this. My worry is that Salcido will be too slow against the opposition in a field which is going to terrorize anybody who lacks speed. Zavala will be an important presence defensively and I would love to see him set up with Herrera or Pena instead. Either of those guys could run for days and provide crucial interceptions for counter attacks against Honduras. I have nothing to really say about Torrado other than the fact that Chepo may have wasted one of our spots on the roster for a team motivator. As an attacking midfield option, I would love to see either Dos Santos or Angel Reyna. If Chepo decides to move Dos Santos up top with Chicharito, Angel Reyna could sneak in behind them in the midfield. Speaking of Dos Santos, I’m not entirely sure what Chepo was thinking when he subbed him out during the last game. Unless he’s injured or really having a terrible game, we need our most creative player on the field.
So we already know that Chicharito is a given, but if Chepo continues with his two-forward style, who should the other be? Dos Santos would be great, but he works better as a play creator in the middle. Bravo is on excellent form for Atlas right now, but I don’t think he should be given a start on the first 11 just yet. That leaves us with Raul Jimenez. As I mentioned in one of my most recent articles, Jimenez could work with Gio as a “false nine” and provide plays up top to Chicharito. Chicharito works best alone (he’s like a renegade cop: “I don’t need a partner!”) and our team has stuttered when we have used two strikers who play in the same area.
(I had a goofy-looking fan image for Mexico, it’s only fair that I have one for Honduras as well)
Los Catrachos have never been a world power in soccer. Chicharito’s paycheck from Manchester United is more than the entire team’s combined payroll from their respective clubs. Yet, once you begin to look at the roster, there is plenty of hidden talent that is going to give Mexico a headache.
What/Who to watch out for
Oscar Boniek Garcia and Roger Espinoza were both voted as MLS’s top two Latino players of the year for last season. Although that may not seem all too impressive for some of you, watching either of them play will give you some second thoughts. Boniek Garcia has the ability to create plays out of nothing in the middle. He is Honduras’ Gio dos Santos, Garcia is extremely creative and has the ability to break defensive lines with excellent passes. Roger Espinoza recently made a transition over to Wigan Athletic, providing him with excellent experience in the English Premier League. Espinoza is a nightmare to deal with in the middle as well. He works harder than most other players on the field by chasing down midfielders and starting plays forward. His aggression will be difficult to subdue and in order to stop Honduras, we need to stop Boniek Garcia and Espinoza.
Maynor Figueroa will be Honduras’ key defender in the back. His link-up play with the attack and excellent marking ability will be tested against our attackers. Luckily for us, Chicharito has already had some experience against Figueroa in the EPL. Figueroa has even told reporters in Honduras about the struggles he will face with Chicharito in the upcoming game. That being said, he isn’t to be taken lightly this Friday.
Up top for Honduras will be Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengtson. Although Bengtson has been the one who has scored more goals, Costly is the one we need to watch out for. Costly was the most dangerous player for Honduras during their most recent game against the U.S national team. His pace has the ability to tire out our defenders and knock in unexpected goals.
Honduras are on a great run right now, out of their last 11 games, they’ve only lost one (against Costa Rica in the 2013 Copa Centroamericana Final). Their last two WCQ games were a 2-1 win against the U.S. and an 8-1 win over Canada in the final game of the third round of CONCACAF Qualifying. Twelve of their players on the roster play internationally (two in England, four in the U.S., two in Scotland, one in Poland, one in Serbia, one in Greece, and one is Costa Rica), and that doesn’t even include the numerous others who play internationally who were not called up for this game. They’re going to attack, and after their most recent win, their confidence and morale will be soaring.
What my formation would look like
I can dream can’t I? The 4-2-3-1 would be perfect against Honduras. In my last article I claimed a 4-4-2 would be sufficient against most CONCACAF teams (as long as our center mids were set at attacking & defending, and not flat), but against Honduras IN Honduras, we need to sacrifice that extra forward and move him in the back.
A 4-4-2 would provide the extra attacker but make us weaker in the middle. Honduras has an impressive list of midfielders who would capitalize on the space we give them and work their way out to the wings. A 4-2-3-1 provides the extra player in the middle (Torrado ten years ago would have been the perfect defensive midfielder for the job) to intercept, steal, and counter against the team.
Mexico 2-2 Honduras. We’ll come out early and take the lead but the heat will eventually tire us out with Honduras making a comeback. Goals for us by Chicharito and Aquino.