Mexico heads into an important Gold Cup, needing to find new players for their first choice national side. 'Chepo' Jose Manuel de la Torre will be looking at all of the players that he's called in with a very critical eye given the poor performances of most of the players currently in the first team, and it wouldn't be shocking to see three or four of these players earn themselves a spot on the El Tri squad for September's World Cup qualifiers.
First up is Panama, who have a strong side, but not their strongest. Canada and Martinique are the other two teams in Group A, and they play earlier in the day.
Could this be a defining tournament for Chepo?
We've been asking this for a while. The Costa Rica game could have been the end of him, but it wasn't. The Confederations Cup could have been the end of him, but it wasn't. It would seem odd to fire Chepo after a poor Gold Cup performance given that he doesn't have any of his first team players, but the FMF has to be losing their patience at this point. Are they really going to wait until they only manage to get one point from their September qualifiers to pull the trigger? Are they really going to put a new manager in the tough position of needing to get a result at Saprissa? When is this guy's luck going to run out?
Players to watch
Raul Jimenez: The pride of Club America has been nipping at the heels of Giovani dos Santos and Aldo de Nigris in the first choice national team setup, with fans calling for Chepo to go to two strikers and pair Jimenez with Chicharito. He'll get plenty of chances that he deserves that opportunity in the Gold Cup, where he'll be the star, not a backup.
Jimenez has been excellent for Club America and has looked good in his limited cameo appearances for El Tri, but he's got to prove he can put the ball into the back of the net for his country at some point. In his 22 combined Under-23 and senior team appearances, Jimenez has just one goal. His work rate and hold-up play are great, but he needs to prove that he can finish as well.
Marco Fabian: The last two seasons have been a roller coaster for the Chivas star. He was on the ascent until his famous goal against Barcelona, but appears to have plateaued. It hasn't been all his fault; Chivas as a whole have been extremely disappointing. His chances to prove that he deserves to be an integral part of the senior national side are running out, and he'll probably be the most highly scrutinized player in the Mexico setup.
With dos Santos, Javier Aquino, Pablo Barrera and Angel Reyna struggling for form, Fabian has every opportunity to push himself into the first team for September's World Cup qualifiers. In the recent pass, he hasn't taken those opportunities. This might be his last chance to prove he belongs in the first team before the World Cup.
Israel Jimenez: Mexico has plenty of depth at right back, but no one has stood out. Chepo has shuffled Severo Meza, Hiram Mier and Gerardo Flores this summer, with none of them embarrassing themselves or cementing the position as their own.
Jimenez was a star at the Olympics and has been excellent for Tigres for the last two seasons. He might be the most talented of the bunch and could be considered for a first team place if he puts together an excellent Gold Cup.
Everything's a bit of a crap shoot with Chepo, but this team looks set up to play in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 formation with a pair of wide attacking midfielders cutting in and interchanging with a pair of strikers, given this team's depth up top. The team is light on central midfield players, and Jorge Enrique might have a tough time in a makeshift midfield against Panama with Carlos Peña injured. I don't believe that any of the team's left backs are able to play central midfield, though, so we've dodged that bullet.
What kind of team does Panama have?
It's not their first team, but it's not bad. Felipe Baloy, Luis Henriquez, Amilcar Henriquez, Armando Cooper and Luis Tejada are the big names that they've left at home. Blas Perez, Gabriel Gomez, Roman Torres and Jaime Penedo are the big names that have come to Gold Cup. All in all, they have a team full of solid professionals, many of whom make their first team roster, and they'll present a significant challenge to Mexico.
Between Panama's solid squad and this team's poor warm-up performances against Queretaro and Cruz Azul Hidalgo, I have trouble predicting a victory. Mexico will do enough against Canada and Martinique to get into the knockout stage, but Panama are too strong to walk through. A win wouldn't surprise me at all, but I'm picking a 1-1 draw.
The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. local time at the Rose Bowl in California. You can catch the game on FOX Soccer or Univision.