Here is  Joshua Picazo’s preview of World Cup Qualifying for Mexico:

Have you recovered from October’s wild “CONCACAF Cup” yet? We hope,
as the 2018 World Cup qualifying group stage will begin this Friday. Mexico start off their WCQ against El Salvador in the Azteca. Although the 2014 World Cup is probably still fresh on the minds of many El Tri fans, the next chapter is ready to be written with some familiar faces as well as newer ones.

San Zusi was born

As we head into the first game of qualifying, let’s reflect on how the last World Cup qualifying went for Mexico. It’s something we hope to not repeat, celebrating Graham Zusi’s goal against Panama as the USMNT lent a hand to the struggling Mexican team that eventually got in. Multiple managerial changes were made with Miguel “Piojo” Herrera taking over for the WCQ Playoff against New Zealand and into the World Cup. Now, Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio takes over a team that seems to have found it’s rhythm, having not lost since April (not including the “B” team which floundered in the Copa America). With its unprecedented 7th Gold Cup title, as well as the thrilling victory over the U.S. in the Confed Cup playoff game, Mexico seem to have put the drama of 2013’s struggles and Herrera’s divisive antics behind them.

Panama celebrates 2013 GC win over Mexico

It’s important to remember Mexico have not lost a meaningful game to a CONCACAF team since the 2013 Gold Cup in which Panama beat them 2-1 in the semifinals. El Salvador, Canada and Honduras will be in their WCQ group. It is expected Mexico will top the group. Osorio’s first roster includes many new names that weren’t in the World Cup, perhaps none bigger than Porto’s Jesus “Tecatito” Corona.  Osorio has mentioned other young player such as Lozano and Pizarro are not far from getting called up to the national team. New blood coming into the national team is good but much of the core is the same for Mexico. Luckily, most of the core players are coming into WCQ in better shape than Mexico’s last qualifying campaign.

MVP of 2015 Gold Cup

A major difference between 2014 WCQ and now is the stunning improvement in the play of Andres Guardado. He was coming off a disappointing loan at Bayer Leverkusen before the 2o14 World Cup. His form was so bad, some questioned if he was a lock for the final 23. Now he’s found a home at PSV and seems to be ready to take the captain’s arm band from Rafael Marquez for good. The 29 yr old Guardado is also expected to surpass Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Ramon Ramirez for 7th place in caps during this international window. Guardado was named the best player of the Gold Cup this Summer and has been Mexico’s rock since the World Cup.

Gio Dos Santos, who made a move over summer to MLS, is a notable absence in Osorio’s first roster. Conspiracy theorists might still point to his tweets  supporting Piojo but Osorio said he has better options in Gio’s preferred position. Whatever the reason,  Chicharito, Peralta,  Vela and Jimenez round out the forwards in this roster. Speaking of Chicharito, one of the main stories Mexican fans will be watching is his chase of Mexico’s all time scoring record as he currently sits 4 goals behind Jared Borgetti. Considering his amazing form at Bayer Leverkusen, don’t be shocked if it happens within the next 3-4 Mexico games. He has been on a tear in the Bundesliga, showing fans what he can do with regular starts. He will be crucial in Mexico’s attack.

Carlos Vela, on the other hand, is struggling at Real Sociedad. He is asked to carry the attack and teams make it a point to shut him down. On top of that, Real Sociedad manager David Moyes has been sacked. His teammate Diego Reyes  seems to haveput his nightmarish Porto experience behind him and is a regular starter. He has been one of the bright spots for Real Sociedad. Consistently earning praise for his play. At his ex-club Porto, or PorTRI as some fans call it, Miguel Layun has been showing out, recording a goal and assist over the weekend. The same can’t be said for Hector Herrera. Once thought to be Mexico’s best player, he has found playing time difficult to find. The manager claims he has been benched to cool down the Mexican media, which can be harsh and to expect him starting soon. Tecatito has also heard criticism in the Portuguese media about his fitness, but it’s too soon to worry. The last time we heard about his “fitness issues”, he came back and had his best season for Twente.

Ochoa in Brazil

The most drama filled position might be goalkeeper. Guillermo Ochoa became a near national hero following his performance against Brazil and now he’s still waiting to make his La Liga debut. Chuy Corona had a mini war with Piojo for supposed failed promises, he returned, started and now is out of action for a few months due to surgery. Ochoa has returned but Munoz is expected to start as he did for the playoff game against the United States. Alfredo Talavera is the other keeper. Tala has been consistent in Liga MX for years but has yet to really be Mexico’s #1 for an extended period of time.

All in all, Mexico seem to be at their best form in years and have a group of youth ready to make their names alongside reliable teammates. CONCACAF World Cup qualifying is always a battle but Mexico are more prepared than in campaigns past.  So sit back and enjoy the start of the road to Russia 2018.