Mexico Remain Gold Cup Favorites Despite Long List Of Absences

With recent friendly stumbles for the U.S., it seems like Mexico should be far and away favorites for the upcoming Gold Cup. But the most decorated Gold Cup team has a couple of issues of their own, even though the depth that Mexico possesses is unmatched in the Concacaf region. 

The first tournament under Gerardo "Tata" Martino has Mexico without several crucial players, due to the players not willing to come to the tournament. That list consists of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez, Jesus Corona, and Hector Herrera, all players who would likely start for Tata in this tournament. And then there are the injured players who are missing out, including Hirving Lozano and Miguel Layun.

But there's still more than enough firepower for Mexico to win eighth Gold Cup. Andres Guardado captains the side, while Raul Jimenez will lead the line after a fantastic season in England with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Jonathan dos Santos has been in fine form for the LA Galaxy this season, while Guillermo Ochoa should afford Mexico some stability in goal. 

Mexico are in Group A at the Gold Cup with Canada, Cuba, and Martinique filling out the rest of the group. There are no questions about where Canda should expect to finish in their group, and the toughest game for Mexico might be a semifinal date against Costa Rica.

Player To Watch: Raul Jimenez

The preferred striker for Mexico over most of the past decade has been Chicharito. Hernandez is Mexico's all-time leading scorer with 51 goals and has led the line at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, amassing 108 caps in the process. 

At the same time, Jimenez has had to fight for scraps, earning 71 caps but scoring just 17 international goals. Jimenez was highly touted with Club America but struggled initially in Europe, when he first went and joined Atletico Madrid. Three years in Portugal resulted in mild success with Benfica before Jimenez scored 17 goals in all competitions this past season on loan with Wolverhampton.

And now with Chicharito choosing to not play in this year's Gold Cup, the opportunity is there for Jimenez to shine as the leading man for Tata. Of course, Jimenez's job would have been a bit easier if Vela had decided to play at the Gold Cup, or if Lozano was healthy enough to play. With those two missing, there is more pressure on Jimenez to produce up top, with Mexico needing the goals to come from somewhere.

This might represent the best chance for the 28-year-old to stake his claim as the striker for Mexico heading into the next World Cup cycle. A strong tournament might help ease Tata's mind about life after Chicharito, while struggles from Jimenez might have the Argentine manager looking for solutions elsewhere.

How They Will Line Up

In recent friendly victories over Venezuela and Ecuador, Martino has made slight alterations to his starting formation. In the 3-1 win over Venezuela, Tata used a 4-1-4-1 look, but that side was mostly a team made up of reserves. In the 3-2 win over Ecuador, Mexico lined up in a 4-3-3, while using what could be their starting 11 come the opening game of the Gold Cup on Saturday.

The biggest question now for Mexico about their starting lineup is who will replace Hector Moreno. The center back came off injured in the first half against Ecuador, replaced by Carlos Salcedo. The Tigres man seems the most likely candidate to replace Moreno, who won't be replaced in the squad, and might be healthy enough to play in the knockout stages. 

The other options at center back are a pair of players that ply their trade in Spain — Nestor Araujo and Diego Reyes. One of those three players will line up alongside side César Montes, who has quickly become a starter for Mexico at the age of 22. 

In midfield, Martino has a couple of easy choices, with both Guardado and dos Santos having plenty of experience, and being in just the form needed for Mexico. At left back, Mexico have just one option after Jorge Sanchez departed the team after picking up an injury against Ecuador. Jesús Gallardo is the lone left back, as Sanchez was replaced by LA Galaxy loanee Uriel Antuna, who might have to replace Edson Alvarez as the starting right winger. 

Only One Acceptable Outcome

The goal for Mexico is the same as always: win the Gold Cup. Last time out, Mexico disappointingly faltered at the semifinal stage to Jamaica, losing 1-0. This time they are the clear favorites, and they should provide a platform for Tata to get his side in gear for the upcoming World Cup cycle.

Failure to win won't doom Martino, though. The previous head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, survived the loss to Jamaica, as well as 7-0 shellacking at the hands of Chile at the 2016 Copa America. However, Martino took the Mexico job with high expectations, and anything less than a win will at least increase scrutiny on his job, one that has been a highly volatile position in the past.

That said, Mexico is the favorites, and should win this tournament. They might have to dig a bit deeper considering all the absent players for this tournament, but as kings of Concacaf, they should be victorious once again.

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