Mexico lacks spark in draw vs. Wales but avoids injuries ahead of World Cup
LOS ANGELES -- Three quick thoughts from Mexico's 0-0 friendly draw with Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl, in their U.S. farewell game in preparation for the World Cup.
1. Mexico fails to find spark but avoids injuries
This was a Mexico side with only two assured starters -- Javier Hernandez and Hector Herrera -- in Russia. And that showed at times against a Wales side that is starting to adapt to Ryan Giggs and began the game in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Mexico had the better chances, and Wales -- without Gareth Bale -- managed only one shot at Jesus Corona's goal. But El Tri couldn't find a way through, with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey outstanding.
Putting the disappointing result to one side, there were two real priorities for Mexico and coach Juan Carlos Osorio. The first was coming through the game without any injuries. And that happened. The past couple of weeks have seen Nestor Araujo leave the squad due to a knee injury, Andres Guardado have surgery and Diego Reyes come into camp with a problem that has kept him from training with the rest of the squad. The last thing Mexico needed was more problems in that regard.
The second issue was which players would be cut from the current 27-player squad to trim it to 23 players to fly out to Europe on June 3.
In that regard, Hugo Ayala was a winner. The Tigres center-back played the full 90 minutes and grew into the game as the leader of Mexico's defense. With Araujo missing, the easiest option Osorio has is for Ayala to slot in, and the 31-year-old didn't do his chances any harm.
Fringe players Jesus Molina, Edson Alvarez and Oswaldo Alanis all had solid games, although Jurgen Damm will have wanted to do more with the 45 minutes he was on the pitch in the second half.
There was also good news for Giovani dos Santos, who failed to convert a difficult late chance but was able to complete 20 minutes, just three days after playing 15 minutes for LA Galaxy. His fitness will be one of the main issues in cutting the squad down, but this was a positive for his chances of making the team.
In the end, this was a game that won't live long in the memory but allowed Osorio to experiment and see those who are on the outside. Against Scotland (June 2) and especially against Denmark (June 9), the real preparation for Russia 2018 will begin.
2. Herrera stands out in Mexico midfield
The midfield unit was really the only one that resembled what Mexico's side will look like in the World Cup.
Holding midfielder Molina is still bidding for a seat on the plane to Russia, but with Araujo out injured, the prospect of Diego Reyes partnering Hector Moreno at center-back is real, which would leave the defensive midfield slot open.
Monterrey's Molina was solid without being spectacular against Wales in the first half before being brought off at halftime, but that's how he plays. With Molina, El Tri lose out in terms of having a player capable of spraying longer passes and being able to spark the team's counterattacks. In the second half, Alvarez was given the chance to play the holding role, having been shifted from right-back, and the 20-year-old also performed satisfactorily.
But the presence of more defensive-minded players such as Molina or Alvarez allows Herrera -- by far Mexico's best player against Wales -- the freedom to roam.
Perhaps El Tri's key player in Russia, Herrera was at the heart of most good things Mexico did against Wales, and although left midfielder Erick Gutierrez was quiet, his place in the starting XI will be taken by Guardado -- if, as expected, the latter recovers from injury. Add the Real Betis player into the mix and Mexico's midfield looks fairly secure.
On a night without major hot takes, Osorio will be encouraged by both the form of a hungry-looking Herrera and the platform that Molina or Alvarez could provide behind him.
3. Numbers give clues to El Tri's World Cup squad?
Without wanting to speculate too much, the numbering for the Mexico squad for the match against Wales looked like it could have been representative of Osorio's 23-man squad for the World Cup.
Alvarez (24), Gutierrez (25) and Damm (26) would appear to be on the outside at present, if the numbering is to be believed.
It was certainly notable that the usual numbers of key players who were unavailable weren't taken by any of the 20 who dressed for the game against Wales. Miguel Layun (7), Hector Moreno (15), Guardado (18), Reyes (5) and Alfredo Talavera (12) all had their usual shirt numbers reserved.
Of course, it could all be a diversion and will obviously be dependent on Guardado, Reyes and Moreno proving their fitness ahead of the coach's June 3 deadline. Osorio almost never allows the media to see his upcoming starting XI in training before games, and it would be a little surprising if El Tri's numbering pointed exactly to where his mind is at on who will be going to Russia. But considering Osorio wanted to name the 23-player squad on May 14, it isn't inconceivable that he has already told the players the lay of the land to avoid last-minute and sudden disappointment.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.