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Vela can provide Mexico attacking flexibility lost in waning Dos Santos

Mark Donaldson and Kasey Keller look ahead to the World Cup and assess how far Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama are capable of going.

When thinking of a utility attacking player for Mexico, Giovani dos Santos was once the name that usually came to mind for El Tri supporters. Whether it be as a winger or a central attacking midfielder, there was a time when the Barcelona product had no problems taking charge of his national team.

This was around a time when Dos Santos was clinching unforgettable moments, such as his breathtaking strike against the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup or the incredible goal against the United States in the 2011 Gold Cup final.

Unfortunately for fans of El Tri, those days don't appear to be returning at any point soon. In the past several months, Dos Santos has been somewhat disappointing for both Mexico and the LA Galaxy.

To make matters worse, things became even more difficult this month after a hamstring injury led to his absence for El Tri. Without a place in Mexico's latest squad, the 28-year-old has further distanced himself from a key role ahead of this summer's World Cup.

In theory, El Tri doesn't need Dos Santos to find success in Russia. It's a stretch to assume he has a starting role, and at best, he would likely be an option off the bench. All that said, a player with his versatility would undoubtedly be invaluable to manager Juan Carlos Osorio. With only a few months until the World Cup, can anyone take over this responsibility?

That's where Carlos Vela comes into play. In fact, he already showcased some of that tactical flexibility in Mexico's 3-0 friendly win over Iceland.

Carlos Vela
Carlos Vela could provide Mexico with plenty of attacking flexibility at this summer's World Cup.

After replacing Andres Guardado in the 59th minute of Friday's victory, Vela provided a number of clever and dangerous passes going forward. As opposed to his usual place on the wings, the LAFC player drifted inside in somewhat of a midfield role. Vela was a game-changer, and when he was eventually moved over to his more accustomed position as a winger, the former Arsenal player continued to be a catalyst in the attack.

On paper, the MLS star is probably better suited as a pure winger, but if Osorio is hoping to add in another layer of creativity in the midfield, it wouldn't hurt to give him more minutes in a central role.

It's apples and oranges when comparing El Tri to LAFC, but Vela's club side is currently reaping the benefits of utilizing him as a No. 10. As the playmaker in the heart of his squad's attack, the Mexican international has shined with one goal and two assists in his first two matches of the MLS season.

Looking back at El Tri, it's easy to imagine the attacking chaos that Osorio's men can create with Vela orchestrating the movement as the central attacking midfielder. With Javier Hernandez above him, Hirving Lozano on the left wing and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona on the right, Mexico would have an immense amount of speed going forward.

If Lozano or Corona need a break, Vela could slot into a wide position and an option like Marco Fabian would then step in as the new central attacking midfielder. If needed, this process can be reversed as well with Vela starting on the wing and later moving centrally.

To make a long story short: Vela's versatility is not to be overlooked.

For those fans who are lamenting the drop in form of Dos Santos, they should take solace in knowing that Vela has the capabilities and talent to lead the Mexico attack. As for Dos Santos, that's a different story altogether as his path to a place at the World Cup becomes more and more distant with each passing day.

Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.


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