Reaching a World Cup qualifying playoff against New Zealand by the grace of Graham Zusi, Mexico played the first leg like an entirely different team, winning 5-1. Why the sudden change? Because are a different team. They are Primera Division champions Club America.
Led by Club America manager Miguel Herrera, "on loan" from his day job to help a desperate Mexico avoid the disaster of not qualifying for the World Cup, and playing at the Estadio Azteca, which is also Club America's home stadium, 10 of the 22 players called in for the match were Club American players. And all of the 22 are based in Mexico, ruling out European-based regulars who struggled through CONCACAF qualifying like Chicharito, Andres Guardado, Gio Dos Santos and Hector Moreno out of fear that they would be too fatigued by traveling to perform. So, Herrera went with a starting XI comprised of seven Club America players, three Leon players and one Santos player.
The result was a dominant performance that Mexico have not had — not even at the once locked down Estadio Azteca — in far too long. Though New Zealand aren't up to par with the CONCACAF teams Mexico had so much trouble with in the last stage of qualifying, the performance highlighted a number of old questions about international football in general. The biggest being: Is it truly best to use the most talented individual players from far-flung clubs and systems or would it be better to focus in on call-ups from a few domestic clubs with players who have chemistry from playing together every day? It works for Spain (Barcelona/Real Madrid) and Germany (Bayern Munich).
One match against mediocre opposition isn't enough to rule that a single in-form club team should be used as a national squad or that foreign based players should forever be excluded, but when nothing else is working, it isn't a bad last resort. The question now is whether Mexico will stick with that strategy now that they can start looking ahead to the World Cup without an overwhelming sense of panic.
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