It wasn't the most exciting match ever played, but thanks to a spectacular free kick goal from Andres Guardado, Mexico came away with a 1-0 win over Chile on Sunday in Barcelona. It was a largely uneventful match, but Guardado was clearly the player of the game for Mexico. The tempo of the El Tri offense immediately picked up when he came on for Efrain Velarde in the middle of the second half. Up to that point Velarde was essentially a non-factor on the left wing, but Guardado took command as soon as he stepped on the field. His 78th minute curling free kick to give Mexico the win was truly a thing of beauty.
While Guardado was undoubtedly Mexico’s top performer, he wasn’t the only player to turn in a positive outing on Sunday. Jesus Zavala went the full 90 minutes for Mexico in the central midfield, and played very well both defensively and as a distributor out of the back. The Monterrey midfielder was partnered alongside Israel Castro against Chile, taking the place of usual starter Gerardo Torrado.
On Friday against Poland it was Torrado in the starting lineup alongside Jesus Molina, another promising young midfielder. Molina has been in great form of late domestically for Club America, and put in a solid performance for the national team against Poland. Manager Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre’s decision to break up his usual Castro-Torrado partnership during the European tour has now officially opened the door to speculation over the future of the position.
Chepo's default pairing in the central midfield has always been Torrado and Castro. While it's hard to find significant fault with either player, the question has to be asked: At what point does El Tri start looking towards the future of the position? Both Torrado and Castro are north of 30 years old, and Torrado will be 35 at the time of the 2014 World Cup. He may very well still be playing at a high level, but is there any way that Torrado is Mexico's best option three years from now? Smart money says no.
At this point the rest of Mexico's lineup on offense can be set in stone. As shown in the second half on Sunday, the team is at its best with Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos, Pablo Barrera, and Chicharito all in the attack. But the personnel decisions aren’t nearly so obvious behind the front four.
As we move towards World Cup qualifying next year, should Chepo continue to work in younger defensive midfielders? Should he stick with Torrado and Castro for now, or is the time right to begin thinking long term? There are plenty of options if Chepo wants to begin handing the reins permanently over to a younger pairing such as Zavala and Molina, or some other young player (ie Jonathan Dos Santos, David Cabrera, etc). It’s certainly a tough decision for any manager to make, especially when you have someone like Torrado who has meant so much to the Mexican national team over the past decade. At some point, though, a change has to be made, and right now there’s enough potential talent to make this a worthy question for debate.
What is your vote for Mexico’s central midfield pairing? Let us know what you think the best option is in the comments below.