Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mexico's Midfield

Three players who are all but certain to start against the United States are wingers Andres Guardado and Alberto Medina and central midfielder Pavel Pardo.

Guardado is the player with the brightest future of the three but Pardo is the most accomplished. Pardo won the Bundesliga crown with Stuttgart this season and scored on an outstanding goal against Guadeloupe on Thursday. Pardo, though, lacks the playmaking ability to break down opposing defense. For all his positives, Pardo is more of a defensive-minded midfielder, though he does have the ability to find seams in the opposing defense.

On the flanks, Guardado and Medina have the ability to create dangerous opportunities for Mexico. The way this tournament has turned out, much of the buildup has come from the flanks. Both Guardado and Medina have the freedom to roam and Guardado takes advantage of it. From the left side, the shaggy-haired Guardado is a constant presence inside the penalty area.

Another first-choice midfielder will not be available due to yellow-card accumulation. Gerardo Torrado will not play as he picked up a yellow card in each of the knockout games. Hugo Sanchez took Torrado out of Thursday's semifinal and replaced him with Fernando Arce, a Mexican league veteran who is playing the best soccer of his career. Arce, though, is better suited for a role off the bench than a starting spot, though he can prove dangerous. Guardado and Arce combined for a splendid goal in a 3-1 win over Venezuela on Feb. 28.

One option Sanchez has in filling the void with another forward and going with a 4-3-3 formation. Sanchez has done that in this tournament and going with a three-pronged attack would not be a surprise.

Or Sanchez could start Jaime Lozano in Torrado's spot. Lozano was at the top of his game in early 2005 but has since fallen off in form. He was not a part of the 2006 World Cup team but has regained a spot under Sanchez. Lozano is deadly on set pieces. His biggest weakness: he stands at about 5-foot-6.

The U.S. fullbacks, probably Jonathan Bornstein and either Jonathan Spector or Frank Simek, will have to neutralize Mexico's wide midfielders. Guardado is a load to handle, so the biggest responsibility will likely fall on Simek/Spector.

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