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USA vs. Mexico, 2022 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: Scouting Mexico

The rivals meet at the region’s most daunting venue.

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Mexico v Panama - Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team opens what could be the final window of 2022 World Cup Qualifying at second place in the CONCACAF Octagonal table. The next match on the schedule is always circled far in advance: Mexico in the elevated confines of the Estadio Azteca. The stakes are heightened as a stumble by Gregg Berhalter’s side could compound into greater issues with the subsequent fixtures against Panama and Costa Rica.

Mexico is led by Gerardo “Tata” Martino, hired in January of 2019. The experienced Argentine manager has weathered the storm of domestic criticism and put El Tri in position to secure an eighth consecutive qualification. After this match, the schedule gets easier with an achievable six points against Honduras and El Salvador.

Mexico is at third in the CONCACAF table, behind the United States on goal differential. The two nations met in November at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, with El Tri on the wrong side of a 2-0 decision. In the last window, Martino registered a 2-1 away win against Jamaica, a disappointing scoreless draw at home with Costa Rica, and a 1-0 victory over Panama.

Martino named a 29-player roster for the three-match window. The squad features 18 call-ups from the domestic Liga MX. Notable internationals Rogelio Funes Mori, Andres Guardado, Julio Dominguez, and Osvaldo Rodríguez were not included.

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GOALKEEPERS (4): Guillermo Ochoa (América), Alfredo Talavera (UNAM), Jonathan Orozco (Tijuana), Rodolfo Cota (León)

DEFENDERS (11): Héctor Moreno (Monterrey) Jesús Gallardo (Monterrey), Néstor Araujo (Celta Vigo), César Montes (Monterrey), Jorge Sánchez (América), Gerardo Arteaga (Genk), Érick Aguirre (Monterrey), Jesús Alberto Angulo (UANL), Johan Vásquez (Genoa), Julián Araujo (LA Galaxy), Israel Reyes (Puebla)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Héctor Herrera (Atlético Madrid), Edson Álvarez (Ajax), Rodolfo Pizarro (Monterrey), Carlos Rodríguez (Cruz Azul), Uriel Antuna (Cruz Azul), Érick Gutiérrez (PSV), Luis Romo (Monterrey), Diego Lainez (Betis)

FORWARDS (6): Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Jesús Corona (Sevilla), Hirving Lozano (Napoli), Henry Martín (América), Alexis Vega (Guadalajara), Santiago Giménez (Cruz Azul)

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With the match at the beginning of the window, this should be a first-choice lineup featuring the program’s biggest stars. Mexico looks to push the tempo and beat opponents through the wings. The attack is fast and direct, with long vertical passes that spring the attackers into space. The defense plays a high line, which has been exploited by athletic teams.

Projected Mexico Starting XI (via LineupBuilder.com)

Having played every minute at goalkeeper during the octagonal round, Guillermo Ochoa is an obvious selection for the starting lineup. The 36-year-old captain has endured a difficult start to Liga MX’s Torneo Clausura with Club América, winning twice in the first 11 matches. He remains the best option on the national team roster, an aging depth chart in which all call-ups are at least 34 years old. Shot-stopping remains his best asset, possessing just enough explosiveness to pull off impressive dives and short-range reflex saves.

Héctor Moreno anchors the back line with over 120 caps. The 34-year-old brings poise and a level head in possession, while having a nose for goal. His partner should be Néstor Araujo of Celta Vigo. He is also an outlet in the build-up, protecting the ball before the counter-attack activates. The towering César Montes could contribute his physical presence to both sides of the game, providing a challenge on set pieces in the final third.

Jesús Gallardo plays a key role in Martino’s formation and is constantly overlapping on the outside. The 27-year-old from Tabasco has the pace to catch opposing defenders out of position. At right back is América’s Jorge Sánchez, who is a more traditional defender. His crossing is useful when the run of play simmers and Mexico cannot run into space. Unsettled on first-choice fullbacks, Martino also utilized Gerardo Arteaga during the last window, letting him serve as an extra attacker in the final third.

Edson Álvarez should be penciled down as Mexico’s starting defensive midfielder for the next decade, the ideal archetype for the position. Standing 6’2”, he possesses dynamic movement and knows when to drop behind the defenders or drift wide to receive the ball. Total Football Analysis praises his positional awareness, “optimal body orientation,” ability to scan the field, and tempo dictation. In addition, his coverage and work rate prevents exposure in the final third, often serving as a third center back.

Héctor Herrera remains an important midfielder for Mexico, appearing in the last eight qualifiers. He is a box-to-box that provides a creative spark in the role of a shadow ten, linking up with teammates and spraying the ball across the field. His partner is no longer Andres Guardado but Carlos Rodríguez, who has emerged as a favorite of the manager. The 25-year-old plays for Cruz Azul and can split multiple defensive lines with his passes, highly dangerous after regaining possession.

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano could be the most talented player for El Tri, nearly impossible to stop after building up a full head of steam. The inverted winger is equally comfortable shooting and creating. The right side of the formation should feature Jesús Corona of Sevilla, who operates in a similar manner and loves to play off the striker. His long dribbling runs unsettle opposing back lines, which allows him to lay the ball off to teammates.

Raúl Jiménez is still working his way back to the torrid Wolverhampton form of 2019-20, but he converted a penalty in Mexico’s 1-0 win over Panama. The six-foot-three target striker makes an impact even when held scoreless, bullying defenders and proving an overall nuisance that opens space for teammates. He can finish in a variety of ways but also works to corral the ball before finding the cutting winger or trailing midfielder. The other options are Henry Martín, who has failed to impress with El Tri, and intriguing 20-year-old attacker Santiago Giménez of Cruz Azul.

The USMNT may arguably hold the edge in talent, but Berhalter’s possession style can be disrupted and exploited by Martino’s quick-strike attack. This is a down cycle for Mexico, but the program should still qualify for the World Cup, which would be the ceiling for most nations. El Tri should expect three points at the Estadio Azteca regardless of opponent, although the venue’s reputation as a stronghold has lessened over the years.

The match is scheduled for Thursday, March 24th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, TUDN, Univision, and Fubo TV (free trial).