Interim manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has options up front and few choices in defense for his team’s match against the South Americans
A new era begins Friday for Mexico. El Tri ended the 2018 World Cup like they have ended the last few – at the round of 16. Now interim manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti is in charge of the team ahead of Friday’s match against Uruguay and next week’s game with the United States.
It’s a chance for a new generation to rise up, and there are 11 players on the roster who are 23 or younger. Ferretti gave few clues about what he wanted to do tactically, saying he always keeps those concepts guarded before a match.
He said he wanted to see his team “play soccer” and that while winning is the goal the first priority is development. Even so, the Tigres boss will be eager to give opportunities to some of those young players to encourage them to develop with their clubs and set regular national team minutes as a realistic goal.
As Goal does before each Mexico match, we’ve put together three projections of what El Tri could do in tonight’s match. Check back an hour before kickoff for Tuca’s starting lineup and more news:
This lineup would feature youth but it also leans heavily on the experience Mexico has in camp. While players like defender Hector Moreno, forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and midfielder Hector Herrera aren’t in camp, there still are elements from the 2018 World Cup team in this group. There’s no reason to think several of those players – chief among them standout winger Hirving Lozano, who is only 23 – won’t feature in the next cycle. In fact, Lozano and injured defender Carlos Salcedo should make up the core of the team for years to come.
So maybe Ferretti thinks there’s no reason to get too extreme – plus the younger players on the roster can get opportunities Tuesday against a United States team that also has called in a young roster. Uruguay has Luis Suarez, Diego Godin and Fernando Muslera in this roster, so it may be worth fighting that experience with players who have been on the international stage.
That would see goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa keep his place from the World Cup with a center-back pairing of Hugo Ayala and Oswaldo Alanis in front of him. Ayala also brings World Cup experience while Alanis saw a heavy diet of minutes in the 2017 Confederations Cup. Also, with Salcedo out, there aren’t many players in this squad who can play center back. Edson Alvarez and Jesus Gallardo reprise their role as World Cup fullbacks.
In the midfield, there will be some changes. Without Herrera or Andres Guardado, Ferretti may turn to Jonathan Gonzalez and Erick Gutierrez, two players who profile well as replacements for their predecessors. Jonathan dos Santos is the only MLS-based player in this squad and he needs to be a big part of this cycle for Mexico if he’s going to get more time in Qatar than he did in Russia, where he made only a brief cameo.
Wolves forward Raul Jimenez playing as the center forward with Lozano on one side seems like a no-brainer. Veteran winger Elias Hernandez gets the nod on the other side here, and with both him and Lozano able to attack from either side, they can feel free to swap sides or even both come in from the same side to overload the defense if they see fit.
Of course, Ferretti and everyone else involved in Mexican football already know what a lot of those experienced players can do. He could turn to youth in the attack, putting Pachuca’s Victor Guzman as the playmaker with 18-year-old Club America winger Diego Lainez and Cruz Azul’s Roberto Alvarado, who turned 20 on Friday, either side of him. Jimenez up top provides experience and a player who will make runs both to help the young players find an option and to clear space for them to work in.
Orbelin Pineda comes into the midfield looking to prove he’s the player of the future that so many thought he was during the last World Cup qualification cycle, before his form both with Chivas and the national team took a dip.
At the back, there are fewer reliable young options. Luis “Chaka” Rodriguez comes in at right back with Ferretti familiar with him and comfortable putting him behind Lainez, who still needs to work on the defensive side of his game. Jose Abella also is an option there. Edson Alvarez slides over to play right center back next to Alanis, who remains the only left center back on this squad.
If Ferretti is so inclined, he can go ahead and play a very young lineup, tossing any players with experience outside the country out of the lineup and using this domestic-based squad (and Alanis who is yet to debut in Spain and because, again, there’s not much center back depth here). This team would be interesting but is pretty unlikely to be the one the 64-year-old manager rolls with.
We’ve got Club Tijuana goalkeeper Gibran Lajud among a number of players who would earn their first senior national team caps. That includes Santos Laguna right back Abella and left back Jesus Angulo. Lainez and Alvarado also are looking for their first caps, while Chivas forward Angel Zaldivar has only one.
In the midfield, Guti and Gonzalez play on either side of Pineda – though they could swap spots. This alignment seems unlikely against an Uruguay team bringing its biggest stars but wouldn’t look totally out of place – a good sign that Mexico has some depth heading toward the next major tournament.