The player who has benefited most from Mexico’s lackluster performances in 2013 has been absent. The spluttering Mexican offense has time and time again stressed how big a miss Carlos Vela is, highlighting his immense value.
At times against both Jamaica and Panama it was as if the ghost of the Real Sociedad player had stalked El Tri to demonstrate the current side's need for a player with his poise, creativity and quality in the final third.
Fans in Mexico took to Twitter after Friday’s dull 0-0 draw against Panama to help #perdonanosVela (Forgive us, Vela) become a trending topic in Mexico.
It was exactly what coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre did not want at this stage of the World Cup qualifying campaign: Media and fans alike talking about what the team is lacking.
Then there was Manuel Lapuente, the Mexico coach from France 98 and current Puebla manager, slamming the attacking side of El Tri recently and saying the side lacks “inventiveness.”
“Something is missing and I think that at the front there is a lack of inventiveness,” said Lapuente in an interview with Record. “We do everything well, but we have to find a way of creating better.”
It was a fair assessment and one which De la Torre cannot fail to see. While the team has been very “ordered” in general, it hasn’t exactly looked good going forward. Six goals in eight games in 2013 isn’t good enough. And the quick fix of bringing in Vela is not going to happen anytime soon.
Perhaps the next best alternative for Tuesday’s game against Costa Rica in the Estadio Azteca is to give Club America’s Raul Jimenez what would be his first competitive start for El Tri, and a chance to prove that he belongs at international level ahead of the Confederations Cup – for which Mexican expectations have been lowered.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last two Mexican seasons, scoring 14 goals in 39 games and becoming the perfect strike-partner for Christian Benitez, who managed 30 goals in 42 games alongside Jimenez.
At 6-foot-3, Jimenez can provide a threat in the air, but is also technically gifted with the ball at his feet. A look at some highlights of his goals over the last season shows that he scores from outside the box, tap-ins, as well as opening up space for others and providing assists.
He has had to be patient, but with first Aldo de Nigris and then Giovani dos Santos failing to really work in tandem with Chicharito over the last two matches, this could be Jimenez’s chance against Costa Rica, to whom he will be a largely unknown quantity.
The move would also offer up a solution to the growing problem on Mexico’s right wing, with both Pablo Barrera and Javier Aquino not providing chances like they should over the last two games. The introduction of Jimenez as a second striker would mean Dos Santos could be shifted out onto the flank.
On Tuesday, Costa Rica will smell blood and be looking for a victory in the Azteca that could really pile pressure on the Mexico manager. De la Torre needs to find answers quickly to the lack of offensive chemistry in El Tri. Jimenez could just be the missing piece of the puzzle.