Hernandez injured as Mexico draw against physical Honduras
HOUSTON -- Mexico finalized preparation for the Gold Cup with a 0-0 tie against Honduras in a scrappy game overshadowed by an injury to Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Here are three observations from Houston's NRG Stadium.
1. Chicharito injury a major concern for El Tri
Striker Hernandez has looked one of Mexico's brightest players since the team got together in Mexico City to prepare for the Gold Cup and had finally wrestled the starting spot back from Oribe Peralta. Now there is a good chance he'll be out of the CONCACAF tournament after reports suggest he has fractured his collarbone.
Hernandez tussled for the ball with Brayan Beckles in the 40th minute by the byline and was bundled to the ground, with the Honduran falling on top of him. The Manchester United player got up quickly and gestured to the medical staff on the bench and immediately headed off, to be replaced by Oribe Peralta. The 27-year-old was taken straight to the hospital and will likely be replaced in Mexico's squad by one of Santos Laguna's Javier Orozco or Monterrey's Aldo de Nigris.
In the first 40 minutes, Hernandez had combined well with Carlos Vela up top in head coach Miguel Herrera's experimental 4-4-2 formation. Vela struck the post twice and also sent Hernandez clear in the 33rd minute, but the Manchester United man couldn't finish.
The absence of Hernandez will obviously hamper the side and will also be a setback for his legions of fans in the United States hoping to see him at the Gold Cup. Even on Wednesday, when he came off, there was an eerie silence inside the stadium and the game's intensity decreased.
In his place, it was interesting to note that it was Peralta and not Giovani dos Santos who came on for Mexico, hinting that it may be the 31-year-old Club America striker who now steps up to the starting XI for the Gold Cup. It is a downgrade, with Peralta not having the best of seasons and looking slow on occasions on Wednesday.
If it is confirmed that Hernandez will be out for a significant period of time, it also could have consequences for his club career. The player's agent is on record saying that a number of offers exist for the striker and that he was weighing his options, with only one year left on his contract with Manchester United and the striker unlikely to stay at Old Trafford following his year-long loan at Real Madrid.
2. Mexico in poor shape heading toward Gold Cup
In front of crowd of 70,128, comprised mainly of Mexican fans, El Tri once again failed show the type of panache we saw last year at the World Cup.
Granted, these games were an opportunity for Herrera to experiment, but El Tri has now gone seven games without a win over the Copa America and these friendlies. It is the team's worst run since 2011.
The 2-2 tie against Costa Rica last Saturday and Wednesday's goalless draw showed a team struggling for identity, searching for a formation and genuine balance. Had Honduras been slightly more clinical, the Central American nation could've even won.
When El Tri kicks of the Gold Cup against Cuba on July 9 in Chicago, it is likely to be around No. 30 in the FIFA rankings and behind both the United States and Costa Rica. Based on what has been seen from the side of late, it's difficult to argue that it should be any different.
Mexico may always be seen as the favorite and, given the talent in the squad, things could start to click at any point, but there are more questions than answers at present.
3. Mixed results from 4-4-2, time to revert back to 5-3-2
Last time out against Costa Rica, it was a 5-2-3 that turned into a 4-3-3 after 15 minutes and then went to a 4-4-2 after halftime. On Wednesday, Herrera started with the 4-4-2 that had looked good in the second half against Los Ticos, with Mexico having come back from 2-0 down to make it 2-2.
In truth, it didn't work out as Herrera would've wanted, considering that the idea was for Mexico to better control the midfield and create more chances in the final third. There still wasn't enough balance and creativity.
The obvious answer now for Mexico and Herrera would be to revert to the 5-3-2 formation that he and his players are comfortable with. The trio of Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera works, Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar are adept at wing-back and they know how to play the system.
There is a doubt about who would replace injured Hector Moreno on the left side of the back three, but with the core of the World Cup starting team from Brazil 2013 still in place, the most logical decision now would be to go back to the 5-3-2.
In an ideal world, Herrera would have time to tinker and experiment with a back four, but the Gold Cup is right around the corner and Mexico can simply not afford to make any major tweaks.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.