Five key players for Mexico against the United States
Which players are vital for El Tri this Saturday? Which ones are indispensable options for Mexico interim manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti?
In Mexico's CONCACAF Cup match against the United States, these five players are key ingredients for a winning Mexico performance at a sold-out Rose Bowl in Pasadena:
1. Andres Guardado
There are doubts over the fitness of Guardado, who recently returned from an ankle injury, but the 29-year-old appears to be at full health after being given the start for PSV Eindhoven last weekend in the 2-1 victory over Ajax. Now, back with El Tri, Guardado should be able to return to his vital spot in Mexico's starting XI.
During the summer, Guardado dragged El Tri to a Gold Cup title and emerged as one of the only consistent players for Mexico during the competition. It was no surprise that Guardado won the Golden Ball award as the tournament's most outstanding player. His leadership and timely goals proved crucial for Mexico.
Guardado is only second to Rafael Marquez when it comes to international caps for Mexico, and he brings an immense amount of experience to the team. The veteran has gotten a second wind since last year's World Cup and has yet to have a dip in form.
With his smart passing and leadership in the middle of the pitch, Guardado is arguably the most important player for Mexico at the moment.
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2. Jesus "Tecatito" Corona
Many encounters between the U.S. and Mexico tend to look fairly similar. El Tri usually dominates possession but struggles to break the American defensive line, while their northern rivals wait for an opportunity to catch Mexico off-guard with a counter.
Despite all that possession, Mexico's attack usually becomes predictable while the team moves forward. This leads to frustration and an ensuing lack of goals.
To combat this attacking problem, "Tecatito" is the perfect solution. In a call-up list filled with plenty of talent, the 22-year-old stands out from his Mexican peers with his unbelievably quick feet and eccentric style of play. The youngster takes chances when the ball is at his feet and constantly finds new ways to sneak past a solid defense.
Corona is undoubtedly a game-changer and has the abilities to become the man of the match against the U.S. Keep an eye on the versatile attacker who could be given a start in the midfield or even as a second striker.
There are no guarantees of a starting spot for the Porto man, but it would be highly surprising to not see him at least have some minutes in the second half.
3. Jonathan dos Santos
With news of an injury for Jose Juan Vazquez, Dos Santos now has a golden opportunity to shine in a defensive midfield position for El Tri.
Looking back at this past summer's Gold Cup, Dos Santos was Mexico's second-best player of the competition after Guardado. The two midfielders kept the squad from imploding during various points of the tournament and helped collect the title after the team stumbled into the final.
The ex-Barcelona player is highly intelligent and accurate with his passing, and has a solid defensive presence on the pitch. If Mexico wants to stop a confident midfielder like Michael Bradley, Dos Santos will need to be at his best this Saturday in the heart of El Tri's starting XI.
Although Javier Guemez could be a surprise addition, it looks as if the more experienced Dos Santos will be Mexico's go-to defensive midfielder in the CONCACAF Cup.
4. Javier Hernandez
Hernandez is El Tri's symbol, the team's talisman and current top goal-scorer. No other Mexican player elicits the same kind of reaction from thousands of screaming fans whenever the ball makes its way to his feet.
Very few players deal with the same amount of pressure, praise, or criticism than the 27-year-old. His excellent scoring rate has become a blessing, and a curse for the Bayer Leverkusen player. Every time Hernandez scores, he reaches a demigod status for fans; when he misses, the jokes come flying in about his role as a bench player or "super-sub."
All eyes will be on the striker this Saturday who, believe it or not, may not even be given a start. With Oribe Peralta, Raul Jimenez, Carlos Vela and Corona all vying for a starting role, Ferretti could shock many by placing Hernandez on the bench.
That being said, the starting role up top for Mexico still appears to belong to Hernandez. The worries and hopes for millions of fans will likely fall on the striker's shoulders on Saturday.
5. Alfredo Talavera/Moises Munoz
As of now, Talavera and Munoz each have a 50-50 chance to start in the match as Mexico's goalkeeper. With Guillermo Ochoa out and Jonathan Orozco a backup option, the starting spot is completely up for grabs in net.
Either way, whether it is Talavera or Munoz, El Tri's goalkeeper will need to be near perfect. As mentioned earlier, despite their usual control of possession in previous encounters, Mexico has been vulnerable against lethal counters produced by the US. Players like DeAndre Yedlin or Gyasi Zardes have the velocity to sprint past El Tri midfielders and defenders and test Mexico's goal with unexpected shots.
The U.S. will surely have opportunities and it's up to Talavera or Munoz to step up in what could be one of the most important matches in their respective careers.
All of the attacking build-up that Mexico creates could go to waste if either goalkeeper has an off-game this Saturday.
Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.