Five questions looming over Gerardo Martino's first Mexico squad
The Gerardo "Tata" Martino era in charge of the Mexico national team really begins this week, with the Argentine's first friendlies against Chile (March 22) in San Diego and Paraguay (March 26) in Santa Clara.
Here are five questions that will be answered during the camp:
1. Which players will step up?
The long game for Martino is preparing for Qatar 2022, but the former Newell's Old Boys head coach's immediate goal is to put together a squad that can win the Gold Cup this summer and lift El Tri's first trophy since the 2015 CONCACAF Cup. And this meet is his only chance to see players before that Gold Cup squad is named.
That's likely why Martino included a bumper 29 names in his squad, giving a wider range of players the opportunity to catch his eye.
Impressing Martino will be especially important for the younger players involved, who aren't proven at international level. Jorge Sanchez (America), Cesar Montes (Monterrey), Carlos Rodriguez (Monterrey), Diego Lainez (Real Betis), Alexis Vega (Chivas) and Roberto Alvarado (Cruz Azul) have opportunities to come into camp and make statements that they are ready for the full national team, as opposed to the Under-23 Olympic squad.
Positive displays will also be important for Jose Juan Vazquez (Santos Laguna), Luis Montes (Leon), Victor Guzman (Pachuca), Rodolfo Pizarro (Monterrey) and Isaac Brizuela (Chivas), who are all on the fringe right now and will want to advance their chances of involvement at the Gold Cup.
2. What will be the message to and from the Europe-based veterans?
There has been an uneasy relationship between the senior Europe-based Mexico players and the national team since Russia 2018 and arguably even before.
Unpaid World Cup bonuses, image rights issues and a reported reluctance from some players to be called upon in the second half of 2018 became talking points. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa articulated his frustration after November games in Argentina, lamenting the national team's lack of "direction" and highlighting the problems Mexico has exporting players to the best leagues in the world.
Nothing was said or done that is irreparable, but the relationship with the veterans is certainly an issue Martino -- who hasn't visited the Europe-based players as yet -- will want to address as soon as possible. He needs those players onside and will be well aware of that.
So far, Martino has been very diplomatic. He has stressed that while he'd like more players in top European leagues, he's not going to moan about them being in Liga MX or MLS, as long as they are getting minutes.
3. Minutes shared around, settled formation?
It would seem to make sense for Martino to share around the minutes over the two games so he can see as many players as possible. That appears the most likely scenario in California.
However, the counter-argument is that with time in short supply ahead of the Gold Cup call-up, Martino may want to establish and work with a strong starting XI to help it gel as quickly as possible. The same could be said about the formation.
It'll also be interesting to see if Martino allows Europe-based players to return to their clubs ahead of the second game, something which former coach Juan Carlos Osorio sometimes permitted and temporary manager Ricardo Ferretti actively promoted.
4. Will Jimenez and Hernandez play together?
Common sense suggests Martino will use a 4-3-3 formation as Mexico's main set-up. It's Martino's go-to system and one Mexican players are adept at fitting into. But it would pose the question of whether Mexico's top two strikers Raul Jimenez and Javier Hernandez can play together.
Jimenez is in the form of his life for Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Hernandez is El Tri's top goalscorer and netted twice for West Ham this past weekend.
Of course, the two have played together plenty of times before, with one or the other usually shunted out to the wing. But with inked-in starter Hirving Lozano scoring the winner for PSV Eindhoven on Sunday, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona back close to his best and Lainez the young pretender catching all of them, playing a striker out wide wouldn't be natural choice.
But there is no guarantee Martino will use a 4-3-3. Martino did play a 3-5-2 in his second season at Atlanta United and a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with the Paraguayan national team. None of those options should be discounted.
5. What tone will Martino set?
This camp will help set the tone for Martino's reign. How open will El Tri be to the traveling media? How will the team set out to play? Will there be any negative headlines? How will the players react to Martino?
Martino has made a positive impression in his limited interaction so far. Perhaps his impressive resume and diplomatic nature may give him more leeway than previous Mexico head coaches, but getting off to a good start will be important.