W2W4: Mexico's young core must impress vs. Uruguay's veteran squad
Friday night sees a youth-laden Mexico take on Uruguay in Houston in their first international date since Juan Carlos Osorio stepped down as El Tri's manager. Correspondents Tom Marshall, Cesar Hernandez and Eric Gomez preview the friendly.
Uruguay a stern opening test for Mexico's next generation
Uruguay is not coming into its first post-World Cup game against Mexico with any sense of this being a rebuilding process. Team captain Diego Godin made it clear the South American team mean business as the Atletico Madrid veteran talked Thursday of "defending our national team with seriousness" and "prestige."
Given this is a strong Uruguay squad, with only Paris Saint-Germain striker Edison Cavani missing from the core group of the World Cup team, Mexico is actually the underdog, despite support from the overwhelming majority of the expected 50,000-plus fans at NRG Stadium.
There may be criticism about the quality of some of the friendlies Mexico plays in the United States, but not this one. This is a genuine test, especially because interim coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti has brought a squad with an average age of 24. Nine of the 24-player squad have zero caps and 15 are under the age of 25. Only two -- Guillermo Ochoa and Raul Jimenez -- have over 50 caps and just four have experience of playing in Europe.
Ferretti will want to see the mentality of those youngsters when faced with Uruguay's well-drilled and tough defensive unit. The likes of 18-year-old Diego Lainez (Club America) and 19-year-olds Roberto Alvarado (Cruz Azul) and U.S-born Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez must prove they are far enough along in their development to be considered for potential future national team players.
This is a potentially dangerous game for Mexico. The wily and battle-hardy Uruguay may want to let out all the steam built up since the World Cup with the news of serious problems within the federation. The players will want to make a statement.
But so will Mexico. And looking on will be potential permanent managers, as well as fans, who should get a snapshot of what the future beholds. -- Tom Marshall
The quest for a new Mexico manager continues
No matter how many times Ferretti tells the press he will not take the Mexico job on a permanent basis, the hopeful reports and scenarios in which he leads the team to Qatar 2022 and beyond continue to linger as Mexico searches for a permanent replacement for Juan Carlos Osorio.
Names have come and gone in recent weeks, but Ferretti continues to be the most enticing candidate despite his repeated negative answers. Why? The Tigres coach has unprecedented continuity at the club level, a gaggle of titles in his nearly 30-year coaching career in the country, a rapport with players that has long been mythologized, and an evolving playing style that straddles the balance between conservatism and new-school possession dominance.
Candidates at home and abroad such as former Brazil boss Carlos Queiroz and ex-Chivas manager Matias Almeyda still linger, though the federation's insistence on scouting a bigger name has definitely minimized the chances for those who have been on the docket since Osorio left and subsequently took over in Paraguay.
Another name to keep tabs on is former Colombia manager Jose Pekerman. Despite federation executive Guillermo Cantu telling ESPN Deportes on Thursday that Pekerman was "not on a table", it would be an intriguing choice. The Argentina native has experience in Mexico, coaching Toluca to a title and later, Tigres to a more modest spell before moving back to South America. With Colombia, Pekerman developed a young, talented group of players into the country's strongest squad since the Carlos Valderrama days, and was a fixture in the knockout rounds of the World Cup. -- Eric Gomez
Older players have something to prove
It's understandable why so much attention is being paid to the large cohort of younger options in the recent call-up. With promising names like Lainez, Alvarado, and emerging PSV Eindhoven star Hirving Lozano on the roster, it's easy for fans and media to begin dreaming of a bright future for the national team.
All that said, in a new World Cup cycle, much of the older generation still has plenty to prove for Mexico as well.
Of the current call-ups, more experienced players such as Alan Pulido, Luis Rodriguez, Hugo Gonzalez, Oswaldo Alanis and Elias Hernandez have never been able to hold onto a consistent role for Mexico. Commonly seen as fringe options, these players will now have a chance to strengthen their tenuous relevance to the national team.
Looking elsewhere, more established names such as Raul Jimenez, Jonathan dos Santos, Hugo Ayala and Guillermo Ochoa will have little room for mistakes. In a transitionary period for Mexico, these players will not only have to highlight their significance to roster, but also their leadership in a squad that features a long list of newcomers.
Although the performance of the younger players will undoubtedly be the major talking point, be sure to keep an eye on some of the more seasoned ones as well. -- Cesar Hernandez