This past FIFA window for Mexico was replete with many of the same narratives that dominated their World Cup qualifying campaign. Goals were scarce, the team’s supposed stars underperformed and the Fuera Tata chants were heard in matches that were played both in the United States and in Mexico.
Each one of those realities will shape Mexico’s run up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Head coach Tata Martino must solve El Tri’s goal drought, and perhaps recall Javier “Chicharito” Hernadez, Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, in order to do so. There’s also growing concern about center forward Raúl Jiménez’s prolonged drop in form since suffering a severe head injury in 2021. Furthermore, Jesús “Tecatito” Corona’s inability to influence games is another worrying trend for Mexico.
Martino’s job security remains a major talking point despite the fact that Mexican Football Federation sporting director Gerardo Torrado has said publicly that he would like to retain Martino after the World Cup. And in an interview with TUDN last Thursday, FMF president Yon De Luisa backed Martino, referring to the 59-year-old Argentine manager as “the best option” for Mexico at the moment.
“The supporters have every right to express themselves, whether or not we agree with them,” De Luisa said. “Our confidence level is at 100. There’s no doubt that our coaching staff is led by Gerardo Martino, and it’ll be that way when we arrive in Qatar.”
That vote of confidence came after Mexico walked away from friendlies against Nigeria, Uruguay, and Ecuador with more questions than answers. An unconvincing 2-1 win over a mostly second-choice Nigeria side in Dallas and a 3-0 loss to full-strength Uruguay in Phoenix set the stage for a tense match up against Ecuador in Chicago. The match ended in a 0-0 draw with Jiménez off the mark throughout the contest.
Naturally, Martino used these games to experiment a bit. He deviated from his standard 4-3-3 formation against Uruguay, perhaps hoping to have a viable tactical solution to problems that may come in November. Mexico lined up in a 5-3-2 shape, featuring a double midfield pivot of Edson Álvarez and Erick Gutiérrez, an unlikely pairing since Gutiérrez is typically behind both Álvarez and Héctor Herrera on the depth chart. For about 35 minutes, Mexico were disciplined and organized, but never looked comfortable under intense pressure from Uruguay’s midfield counter press and high press. Individual errors on set pieces and defensive breakdowns doomed Mexico as Uruguay schooled El Tri via direct football and an inspired Edison Cavani.
Statistically, the match was much closer, with Mexico having more possession, better passing accuracy and just as many shots (10) as Uruguay. That much about Mexico is consistent; Martino’s side often betters their opponents on paper, but the players simply have not delivered in key moments. This is true regardless of what formation Martino experiments with.
In a recent interview with Telemundo, Martino admitted to former El Tri striker Carlos Hermosillo that Mexico’s attack was “deficient”, often crumbling due to poor decision making by the players on the field.
“We’ve had problems in the final third that result from bad decisions with the final pass, finishing plays poorly from wide areas, and then (the player) who’s in a position to score, isn’t clinical,” said Martino. “We’re not putting enough players inside the box and we’re a team that gets to those areas often. That’s something that we have to correct.”
Martino added that a lack of goals is often a sign of more significant issues, but in the case of this Mexico side, they’ve done well to build play from the back and advance up the field via numerical superiorities. The problem again, he said, are substandard decisions by the players in crucial attacking positions.
And so a harsh reality has begun to set in for Mexican fans. “Es la que hay” is being uttered in the press, meaning that this is as good as it’s going to get for Mexico from a player personnel standpoint. However, in CONCACAF Nations League matches versus Suriname and Jamaica, some players made strong cases for bigger roles at the World Cup in Qatar, while others now have a scant chance to make Mexico’s final roster. And that in theory, was the objective in June.
In May, we published a World Cup roster prediction, a 1.0 version of Mexico’s final squad for Qatar. Here’s where that prediction stands as of today, still operating under the assumption that FIFA will increase squad sizes from 23 to 26 for this edition of the tournament:
Locks: Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera
In consideration: Carlos Acevedo, Rodolfo Cota
There is a definite battle for the third goalkeeper spot. The more experienced Cota was given starts against Nigeria and Jamaica, but an embarrassing miscue against the African side has left the door open for Acevedo. The 26-year-old performed well against lesser competition in Suriname and will remain in contention up until decision day. Acevedo is viewed as Mexico’s goalkeeper of the future, so it will be an interesting decision.
Locks: Gerardo Arteaga, Jesús Gallardo
In consideration: Erick Aguirre
There isn’t much more to analyze in this position group. Genk’s Arteaga is likely the first choice left fullback in Qatar. Gallardo, in spite of his inconsistent form, has World Cup experience that Martino values. The CF Monterrey defender is a player who understands Martino’s system and can step in as a wingback if Mexico plays in with a three-man back line. Monterrey’s Erick Aguirre has played on both the left side and right side Mexico’s defense. He’s a versatile option that would be a surprise addition to the final World Cup roster.
Locks: Néstor Araujo, Héctor Moreno, César Montes, Johan Vásquez
Confident: Julio César Domínguez
In consideration: Jesús Ángulo, Israel Reyes
The locks at center back are virtually written with a Sharpie. Domínguez, who was ruled out in June via illness, nonetheless remains a strong candidate to make the Qatar roster. Ángulo and Reyes are two young center backs with different profiles. Reyes is a tall and lanky defender with tremendous upside, but still raw at the international level. This was a big window for Ángulo, a left-footed central defender who Martino has been high on in the past. But most analysts in Mexico believe that the Tigres defender didn’t do enough to lock down a back-up role at the World Cup.
Lock: Jorge Sánchez
In consideration: Julian Araujo, Kevin Álvarez
Former Pumas right back Alan Mozo, now with Chivas, is unlikely to be under consideration. The same goes for Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez, who has been part of Martino’s Mexico teams since 2019. Mozo hasn’t been part of Martino’s call ups and Rodríguez is dropping further down the right back pecking order. Barring an injury, Club América’s Sánchez will be Mexico’s starting right fullback against Poland on November 22.
There’s an intriguing race though between the LA Galaxy’s Julian Araujo and Pachuca’s Kevin Álvarez to provide depth at the position. Araujo started against Suriname, while Álvarez was given the nod versus Jamaica. Neither truly stood out, but Álvarez has more buzz at the moment, as PSV Eindhoven are reportedly pursuing the 23-year-old.
Locks: Edson Álvarez, Héctor Herrera, Luis Romo
In consideration: Luis Chávez
Pachuca’s Chávez has earned his way into serious consideration as a depth piece behind Edson Álvarez and Héctor Herrera after solid starts against Suriname and Jamaica. Chávez has more range than both of the aforementioned locks in Mexico’s midfield and is unafraid to have a shot on goal. The left footer was described by Pachuca’s head coach Guillermo Almada as “a spectacular player with a lot of talent and surprising dynamism.”
Yet, strong performances and growing confidence from Martino won’t guarantee a place for Chávez in Qatar. Mexico is deep in central midfield and Martino may opt to prioritize other positions, such as left fullback and center forward.
Locks: Erick Gutiérrez, Andres Guardado, Orbelin Pineda
Confident: Carlos Rodríguez
In consideration: Fernando Beltrán
Already on the outside looking in from Version 1.0 of this list, poor performances from Sebastián Córdova and Rodolfo Pizarro over the June window have all but sealed their fate ahead of the World Cup. In 2020, Córdova was a rising Liga MX star and a player who Martino pegged as a future starter for Mexico in Qatar. He has since stagnated, while Pizarro has failed to take advantage of Martino’s continued support. Both players were outshined by 18-year-old Marcelo Flores, whose cameo against Suriname wowed the Mexican faithful.
Locks: Hirving Lozano, Jesús Corona, Uriel Antuna, Diego Lainez
Confident: Marcelo Flores
In consideration: None
Mexico’s attack will not improve if their wingers remain stuck in the rut. That will however open the door a bit more for Flores to make the final roster. The teenager is a more promising addition than Roberto Alvarado, another player who has fallen down the depth chart. Diego Lainez also showed why he’s a unique Mexican talent and El Tri’s only true game changer. Mexico fans want to see the Real Betis winger start in Qatar, but his ability to disrupt a tired back line in the second half is a strategy that could be useful in tournament play.
Locks: Raúl Jiménez, Alexis Vega, Santiago Giménez
In consideration: Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
After three years of no communication, Martino and Hérnandez have reopened talks, with both the coach and the player recently confirming that a phone call took place earlier this month. Hernández fell out with Martino in 2019, after the star center forward violated team rules during a national team tour of the U.S., a scandal that led to the firing of a national team staffer. Hernández then skirted accountability, which Martino could not forgive. A second meeting is planned between the two, but Martino told reporters not to jump to conclusions.
“This is nothing more than a conversation between a coach and a player,” Martino said. Nonetheless, Mexico’s absent attack could use a boost and no other player Martino has called up has proven to be the answer. Is Hernández the remedy El Tri needs? Hernández has six goals in 15 appearances for the Galaxy so far this MLS season.
Martino did reveal that Mexico’s August 31 friendly vs. Paraguay, which isn’t a FIFA window, will feature players from Liga MX, including at least one new face, so Hernández’s chances aren’t exactly plentiful. That surprise addition could come from Liga MX champion Atlas FC, whose players have not featured at all under Martino. Midfielder Aldo Rocha or Argentine-born center forward Julio Furch would be the most likely candidates.
Warm up matches (reportedly against Peru and Colombia in September in California), and one reported final test against Sweden in November, are the only opportunities left to make an impression on Martino. Sweden were eliminated by Mexico’s Group C opponents Poland in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying playoffs in March.
By that matchup with the Swedes, Mexico must show that they’re a reinvigorated side or they’ll risk further distancing themselves from their supporters back home.
Predicted 26-man Mexico World Cup roster
Goalkeeper (3): Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera, Carlos Acevedo
Left fullback (2): Gerardo Arteaga, Jesús Gallardo
Center back (4): Néstor Araujo, Héctor Moreno, César Montes, Johan Vásquez
Right fullback (2): Jorge Sánchez, Julio César Domínguez
Defensive midfield (3): Edson Álvarez, Héctor Herrera, Luis Romo
Central midfield (4): Erick Gutiérrez, Carlos Rodríguez, Andres Guardado, Orbelin Pineda
Winger (5): Hirving Lozano, Jesús Corona, Uriel Antuna, Diego Lainez, Marcelo Flores
Striker (3): Raúl Jiménez, Alexis Vega, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández
(Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA TODAY Sports)