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May 14, 2014

Three key questions for Mexico

Can Mexico striker Javier Hernandez regain his form in time for the World Cup?

Mexico's final round of World Cup qualifying was supposed to be the continuation of what looked like a golden age of football within the country. The country captured a U-17 World Cup in 2011, followed by Olympic gold in 2012, and on top of that the senior team marched to a perfect third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, outscoring opponents 15-2. At that point, it appeared Mexico had established itself as the regional power not just in its current state, but also for years to come.

That all changed in the hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying, where a fourth-place finish, with an assist from the U.S., forced Mexico into a two-leg playoff with Oceania Confederation champion New Zealand, and prompted four coaching changes over a six-week span.

The team and its supporters hope that ugliness is behind them, and current manager Miguel Herrera has already named his 23-man roster in hopes that the team can take extra time to build chemistry going into the World Cup. Still, there is apprehension among Mexico supporters given the team's recent past and based on Herrera's selections for the final roster. Here are three key questions Mexico faces less than a month before it begins its quest to advance past the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1986.

What role will Carlos Salcido play?

Herrera has not called Salcido in to play for Mexico since taking over as manager in October, even though the defender had participated in eight of the team's 10 hexagonal-round games. Given that Herrera prefers to play a 5-3-2 formation -- where the outside backs have a deeper starting point to get forward and essentially serve as outside midfielders -- it is difficult to imagine what role the 34-year-old Salcido will play as a member of the 23-man roster.

If Herrera envisions Salcido as depth at the outside back position, the manager will first need to determine what side is best for the Tigres defender to reside on. Salcido was a staple on the left side for Mexico throughout qualifying and ranked third on the team with 64.1 touches per 90 minutes (minimum five appearances), but in the 2014 Clausura the versatile defender spent most of his time on the right side and ranked third on Tigres with 64.7 touches per 90 minutes.

Heat map of Carlos Salcido's touches in 2014 World Cup qualifying, left, and those in 2014 Clausura campaign, right.

Salcido has displayed an ability to get forward for both club and country, and even though he completed 85 percent of his passes in the attacking half playing predominantly on the right side with Tigres compared to an 80 percent completion rate on the left for Mexico, the defender also created 1.0 chance per 90 minutes in World Cup qualifying as opposed to just 0.5 per 90 minutes in the 2014 Clausura.

Salcido's inclusion in the final 23-man roster despite no previous call-ups by Herrera is a signal that the manager has not completely settled on either outside back positio...