Pulido, Mexico get the job done vs. Iceland in experimental 2017 opener
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A domestic-based Mexico squad defeated a weakened Iceland side 1-0 on Wednesday in Las Vegas in El Tri's first match of 2017.
Here are three thoughts from the match:
1. Mexico gets the job done in experimental 2017 opener
A first-half goal from Alan Pulido was enough for Mexico in a game that won't live long in the memory but did offer coach Juan Carlos Osorio the chance to experiment.
The first 45 minutes saw El Tri use a strong side, including Rafa Marquez and Giovani dos Santos, and Mexico should have won by more goals based on the balance of play. The front three of Pulido, Hirving Lozano and Dos Santos was dangerous, with Orbelin Pineda operating in midfield and Jurgen Damm and Jesus Gallardo as wide midfielders.
The gap in quality between the two teams was evident from the start, with Mexico enjoying 71 percent of the possession and having a total of 19 shots to Iceland's five. El Tri pushed to increase the lead, and the team's lack of clarity in front of goal -- a persistent worry for Mexico -- was again evident and will worry Osorio, considering the attacking nature of his starting XI. To be fair to Iceland, the side showed the same organizational qualities that saw them shock the world at Euro 2016, and this was a very young squad with next to no international experience.
Damm was Mexico's most effective attacking player, while the back three of Marquez, Nestor Araujo and Oswaldo Alanis was balanced and dealt comfortably with what little attacking threat Iceland could muster. The importance of Marquez -- who turns 38 next week -- was again highlighted here. The Atlas player started El Tri's attacks and switched play like a quarterback.
The second half was disjointed, with Luis Reyes and Edson Alvarez coming on for their debuts, but Osorio made a total of six substitutions, and the match fizzled out as a spectacle.
2. Pulido gets confidence boost with first goal since 2014
Chivas striker Pulido celebrated his first-half goal with passion more akin to a World Cup game than a February friendly against weakened opposition. It highlighted how desperate the 25-year-old is to be a regular for El Tri.
Pulido's play in Liga MX hasn't been great, however, and he has struggled to recapture the form that saw him take part at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and move to Europe just after the tournament.
That particular trip didn't do Pulido any good, and the player is still attempting to get his career back on track after a couple years without regular playing time. He was also kidnapped in 2016, and his personal life has become public knowledge in Mexico, providing headlines for off-field events.
The lack of assuredness was evident in the 18th minute, when Pulido lofted a shot over the bar with just the Iceland goalkeeper to beat. But he took his goal well three minutes later, glancing a header into the corner of the net from a free kick swung in from the left by Dos Santos.
Pulido's work rate is faultless, as is his attitude. He's on the right track, and Mexico and Osorio will wait for him to get there, especially with the lack of depth El Tri has upfront right now.
Wednesday's goal will have given him a boost of confidence, and Osorio will be hoping Pulido can carry that into his club play at Chivas.
3. New formation points to ultra-attacking future for El Tri
Osorio was adamant ahead of the game that this friendly offered an opportunity to experiment for March's FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and he was true to his word.
The Mexico coach fielded Damm and Gallardo as wide midfielders in a 3-4-3 formation, handing the duo extra defensive responsibility to what they are accustomed to at club level with Tigres and Pumas, respectively. The result was an ultra-offensive look from Mexico.
The idea is that Mexico has as much profundity and depth as possible when in possession and attacks in waves to overcome sides in CONCACAF -- such as Honduras, which El Tri plays in June -- that sit deep and defend in numbers.
The overall conclusion was positive for Mexico. Damm was a constant threat down the right flank, and Gallardo backed left-winger Lozano up well. The way the forwards interacted and Pineda ghosted in between the Iceland defense and midfield was great. Gallardo was subbed off at half-time for Atlas' Luis Reyes, and Raul Lopez came on for Dos Santos, meaning Damm was pushed further forward, but Osorio still had 45 minutes to assess the experiment.
The 3-4-3 with two wide midfielders that are usually attacking wingers is an exciting and risky idea from the studious boss. Considering that Mexico has an abundance of talent on the wings and not many top-quality full-backs, it makes sense to try something.
On paper, Wednesday's match was a success, though a young Iceland reserve team didn't exactly offer a stern test of how robust Mexico would be defensively, with only four defense-minded players on the field.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.