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Panama vs Mexico, CONCACAF Nations League: What to watch for

Mexico v Panama - Concacaf Nations League Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Lately, it’s been hard to get excited about the Mexico National Team playing in the CONCACAF Nations League, with El Tri virtually already having their place booked in the knockout phase after just two matches. From the start, however, these games were all about experimenting and inciting a sense of competition in a number of key positions in the team. That’x exactly what coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has done and is expected to do again when Mexico take on Panama on Friday. Here are three things to watch for against Los Canaleros.

The fullback spots. If you’ve been keeping track with what has been going on with the Mexico National Team in the last few days, one of the huge points of conversation has been the absence of Miguel Layun. Gerardo Martino has been quite clear about it. One of the reasons why Layun is not in this call-up is that there are fullbacks currently in better form than the 31-year-old Monterrey defender.

Martino is not wrong. One of the bright spots thus far in terms of player development through the course of Martino’s last few months with El Tri has been the promise Mexico’s young fullbacks have shown. We already knew of Club América’s Jorge Sanchez, and now the emergence of Cristian Calderon has added a whole new layer of competition in the fullback positions.

The case of Calderon is still the most appealing. His stock has risen enormously in the last year, and while he struggled in the last game against Panama covering for Rodolfo Pizarro, it could have just been a question of adaptability and lack of cohesiveness. On paper, he has all the qualities of a top fullback and is the perfect competition for somebody like Jesus Gallardo, who up until last year was widely considered Mexico’s left back of the future.

Who will play center back? One of the things we praised Gerardo Martino for in the last call up was giving Nestor Araujo and Carlos Salcedo a chance to redeem themselves after the horror show that was the defeat to Argentina. This time around, there is no Nestor Araujo or Carlos Salcedo, and instead, Martino has resorted to bringing back Hector Moreno. There is little doubt Moreno will most likely play all 90 minutes, but who will be joining him at center back?

It is not secret that for the longest time, Martino has not been at all satisfied with Nestor Araujo’s play with the national team. In theory, Hiram Mier’s surprise call-up was going to give Martino a chance to see a fresh face, but that was before Mier had to be called back with an injury. Martino certainly has options, and odds are we will see Cesar Montes get the start alongside Moreno. But whether it is this match or the next one against Bermuda, at least one of the other center backs has the chance to impress Martino ahead of the Semifinals.

Mexico’s scoring touch. One of the defining characteristics of Mexico in the Gerardo Martino era has been their scoring efficiency. This CONCACAF Nations League has been no different. In El Tri’s first two matches, Mexico has outscored opponents by a score of 8-2.

If healthy, Raul Jimenez will most likely be the one leading the line here, and once again in his pre-game press conference, Martino reiterated that Jimenez will be his starting striker moving forward. But special mention has to go to Jose Juan Macias, the only other out and out striker in this roster. Macias has scored in every game he has played for El Tri, and could be an interesting second half choice, just how he was in the first matchup against Los Canaleros.