Prepping Mexico's depth chart for 2018
Wiping the slate clean. That's what Mexico coach Miguel Herrera has said he'll be doing as he guides El Tri in their first tentative steps towards Russia 2018.
The winning generations of Mexican youth (Olympics 2012, U-17s in 2005 and 2011) should all be in the mix for playing time and El Tri have, on paper, a better chance of reaching the latter stages than at any World Cup since Mexico '86.
Of course, these processes rarely go smoothly, especially for Mexico, and it'll likely be a bumpy road. If Herrera is still at the helm, he'll be the first El Tri coach ever to lead the team to consecutive World Cups having been in charge for the full four intervening years.
In the first depth chart post-Brazil, the one thing that sticks out is that there hasn't been too much movement in the first XI. Herrera has sent out mixed signals over the futures of veterans Carlos Salcido and Rafa Marquez with the national team, but it's inconceivable that either will feature at Russia 2018, at least in a playing capacity, and therefore have been left out.
We'll have to wait for the squad list for the Sept. 6 and Sept. 9 friendlies against Chile and Bolivia for final confirmation, but the performances of Mexico in Brazil left a pleasant taste and the bulk of the starters at the tournament have to be given a chance to consolidate their places moving forward.
1. Guillermo Ochoa
2. Jesus Corona
3. Alfredo Talavera
Memo Ochoa has moved to La Liga's Malaga and has the chance to show himself in what is arguably the world's top league in terms of quality. While Corona's age (33) may be a concern, there's no reason to think Herrera will be dropping him any time soon, even after the duo's misunderstanding over an interview the manger gave last month. The Cruz Azul stopper remains the backup, with Toluca's Talavera the No. 3.
Chivas youngster Antonio Rodriguez has shown promise and Leon's William Yarbrough will be hopeful of a shot -- even if he hasn't started the season in top form. The likes of Monterrey's Jonathan Orozco and Morelia's Carlos Felipe Rodriguez deserve a mention, as does America's Moises Munoz, even if he will be 38 by Russia 2018.
1. Hector Moreno
2. Diego Reyes
3. Oswaldo Alanis
This is a problem position for Mexico, with Espanyol's Moreno out until at least late 2014. There are a lack of left-footed center-backs in Liga MX at present that are getting regular minutes, meaning that either the versatile Reyes slots in, or impressive 25-year-old Santos Laguna defender Oswaldo Alanis gets his chance.
Another option would be Cruz Azul's Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez, who has played there before, or even bringing in Salcido until Moreno recovers.
1. Diego Reyes
2. Miguel Herrera
3. Hugo Ayala
Rafa Marquez's move to Hellas Verona ironically makes it more difficult for him to continue with El Tri. The 35-year-old is unlikely to want to be traveling back and forth over the Atlantic at this stage in his career.
It leaves a big hole in Herrera's system and one that Porto's Reyes has the necessary requisites to step into. The 21-year-old has had an exemplary career to date and is virtually guaranteed a starting place in the Portuguese league now that French international Eliaquim Mangala has left.
Pachuca's Herrera has garnered much praise from the Mexico coach and Tigres' Ayala has been a consistent performer in the Liga MX for years.
1. Francisco Rodriguez
2. Hiram Mier
3. Hugo Ayala
It is difficult to envision 32-year-old Rodriguez continuing too much longer with the national team, despite his excellent World Cup. Indeed, it is possible that Herrera cuts him loose now.
Monterrey's Mier -- another Olympic gold-medal winner -- is ready to pick up the mantle after recovering from a serious ACL injury, although it must be recognized that without Rodriguez, the physical presence in El Tri's back line is severely diminished and therefore the Cruz Azul center-back holds his place, for now.
1. Miguel Layun
2. Andres Guardado
3. Miguel Ponce
Layun was underwhelming in the World Cup, but he is the best Mexico has in the position by some distance. Guardado proved in Brazil that a central role suits him best, while Tigres' Jorge Torres Nilo, Toluca's Miguel Ponce and Santos Laguna's Jose Abella will and be in the mix for the spot.
1. Paul Aguilar
2. Rodolfo Pizarro
3. Jose Abella
America's Aguilar must keep the position for now, but there is not much in it, with 20-year-old Rodolfo Pizarro impressive for Pachuca and seemingly the next in line to take over. Pizarro started his career as a winger, before being dropped to right-back, so a wing-back position would suit him.
Abella can play on either flank and has earned praise from Herrera.
1. Jose Juan Vazquez
2. Juan Carlos Medina
3. Jonathan Dos Santos
Vazquez was the revelation for Mexico in Brazil and is the player to displace in the defensive-midfield role at present, after taking the spot when Medina was injured ahead of the tournament.
The big unknown here is Jonathan Dos Santos, who has moved to Villarreal and is now recovered from an ACL injury. The Barcelona-raised midfielder is a relatively unknown quantity, but if he can win a starting place at his new club, it'll likely lead quickly to chances in the national team.
Elsewhere, Monterrey's Jesus Zavala will consider himself unlucky to have missed out on the World Cup, while Tijuana's tenacious holding midfielder Javier Guemez may develop into a player Herrera will want to take a look at.
Attacking midfield left
1. Andres Guardado
2. Marco Fabian
3. Carlos Pena
Luis Montes' unfortunate injury ahead of Brazil 2014 gave Guardado an opportunity that he took with both hands. The Valencia player's success seems to have spilled over into his club, where he is likely to start in central midfield this coming season in La Liga.
Fabian remains a strong option, while Pena has regained some form at Leon and Santos Laguna's Alonso Escoboza is a player Herrera likes. Montes' return to the national team will depend on him proving his fitness and form for Leon.
Attacking midfield right
1. Hector Herrera
2. Carlos Pena
3. Javier Aquino
Porto's Herrera has been in fine form this preseason and was Mexico's best player at the World Cup. A big season is expected in Portugal and, from there, it would be no surprise if he moved to one of Europe's elite clubs before Russia 2018.
Behind him, the battle is on, with Isaac Brizuela losing form and Javier Aquino shipped out from Villarreal to Rayo Vallecano.
The likes of Atlas' Arturo Gonzalez, Pachuca trio Hirving Lozano, Dieter Villalpando and Jurgen Damm, as well as Twente's Jesus Corona are waiting in the wings for a chance in the attacking midfield spots. While they may still be a little young, they are exciting prospects.
1. Giovani Dos Santos
2. Oribe Peralta
3. Alan Pulido
Villarreal's Dos Santos is now fully established in Spain and finally has got the firm foundation for his career to really take off now he is hitting his prime. Dos Santos will be a key figure over the next four years.
Peralta has scored two in his last two games for America and doesn't appear to be on the wane, while the future of Vela in the national team has once again been re-opened, with Herrera saying he would be willing to give the Real Sociedad striker another chance.
Alan Pulido's next move is unknown thanks to the ongoing contractual standoff with Tigres, but he will remain an option, especially if a move to Europe does go through.
1. Raul Jimenez
2. Javier Hernandez
3. Oribe Peralta
Jimenez is soon likely to be an Atletico Madrid player, but that's not the main reason behind him being propelled into a starting spot. The 23-year-old has started the Apertura 2014 in fine form and a strike partnership with Giovani Dos Santos should function well.
Chicharito Hernandez's future is still up in the air at Manchester United and he needs first minutes and then goals if he is to start competing again to be in Mexico's starting XI.
Tom Marshall has been based in Guadalajara since 2008 and has written about Mexican football ever since. Find him on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup.