Tonight’s the night! The reign of Juan Carlos Osorio begins now. His first task: lead Mexico to World Cup qualifying glory against El Salvador at the Estadio Azteca at 9 p.m. EST.
It’ll be very interesting to see how Mexico lines up tonight. Everything down to Osorio’s preferred style of play – a 4-3-3 vs. a 4-2-2 – is in question, and as ESPN’s Tom Marshall notes in his match preview, the Colombian coach is unique in that his decisions are based on “a player’s workload over past weeks, the tactical layout of the opposition and their key strengths.” He’s a meticulous tactician, a possession-oriented, scientific thinker through and through. Analyzing El Salvador has proved to be particularly tough.
“The first game is more important, because it has been difficult to scout El Salvador,” he said in a pre-match press conference yesterday afternoon. “The group and team that we have has to be ready to rise to the challenge.”
Who will be tasked to rise to said challenge? (A challenge that should be well within reach, it must be stated, for El Salvador has struggled recently, suffering a 3-1 defeat to Haiti and drawing 1-1 with Guatemala). Aside from veteran leaders like captain Andrés Guardado, Héctor Moreno, Miguel Layún (who may or may not be rested), and Héctor Herrera, Mexico is “designing its lineup,” said Osorio. “It may change, and we are waiting for the players that we’re missing. But due to great runs of form from Javier [Hernández], Raúl [Jiménez], and Oribe [Peralta], we’re considering playing with two 9’s.” Not one but TWO strikers?! We might just have a goleada on the horizon…
“Javier has been scoring important goals,” Osorio added. He’s right, and it makes sense to feature the Bayer Leverkusen man in the lineup – he’s currently only five goals away from becoming his country’s all-time leading goal scorer. YES! “We’re going to evaluate and take everything into account, because we want them to be at 100 percent for both games. Carlos Vela can play in a number of roles, as can Jesús Corona and Javier Aquino. Gullit Peña and Carlos Esquivel are in good form too and, physically, are in a better place than Giovani [dos Santos].” So much attacking fire. So. Much. Fun.
Two other big question marks in Osorio’s side are the right back and goalkeeper positions. Osorio has raised eyebrows with his talk of playing Layún – traditionally a left back – down the right, but he insists that the Porto man will compete with Paul Aguilar for the position. “Layún is an excellent football player. I think he will be much more effective at right back,” he confidently told the press. While they might be battling for the position in the long run, don’t be too surprised if Chivas’ Raúl “Deditos” López gets a run this evening to give Layún a rest.
In other exciting news, Guillermo Ochoa is back in the squad, a “statement of faith” from his new coach. When asked who he had considered starting, the El Tri boss replied “The three of them. We are very well protected between the posts. Muñoz and Talavera are well aware of everything that Ochoa has contributed to Mexican soccer.” 35-year-old Muñoz has been the man for the job in recent matches, but Memo’s wall might be back up tonight. We’ll know in a matter of hours.
Osorio clearly has a ton of talent to work with in this squad. And while it would be very unwise to expect it all to fall perfectly into place in his first game in charge, there are still so many reasons to be hyped for this game. This could be the start of something really beautiful (and hopefully far less stress-inducing than Mexico’s last qualifying campaign).