When Mexico play against New Zealand in this month’s two-legged playoff, they will do it for a lot more than just the last ticket to the World Cup. They'll be doing it to revive interest in their domestic and international efforts.
El Tri have had a tough year. From February, when they started their participation in the Hexagonal with the first-ever draw against Jamaica at the Estadio Azteca, to October, when they lost at Costa Rica for the first time in 21 years.
Jose Manuel de la Torre, Luis Fernando Tena and Victor Manuel Vucetich lost at least once during their terms, and only the latter won at the Azteca.
Now, under the command of Miguel Herrera, Mexico seek to qualify to their sixth consecutive World Cup and 14th overall. The feat won’t be easy. El Tri will play with a home-based squad, the same that faced Finland in a friendly on October 31.
But what long-term factors are making Mexico so desperate to qualify?
Mexicans playing abroad
As per ESPN Deportes, Herrera believes that the footballers who play abroad will not be as rested and well-adjusted as those already in Mexico.
They haven’t been up to their best with the national team either. Giovani dos Santos has been playing as a winger, when his natural position is second striker.
Javier Hernandez has not scored with El Tri since June, when Mexico was eliminated from the Confederations Cup in the group stage. He also missed a penalty kick at the Estadio Azteca against Panama.
Andres Guardado has not been called since September. Carlos Vela doesn’t want to be capped, and Javier Aquino and Hector Herrera have certainly not been key elements.
Mexico has never had so many footballers abroad, and yet the crisis with their own team is worse than ever.
The Liga MX has a key role
The reason Herrera called 10 players from America—the club he manages—is simple: They are the best team of the Liga MX. They lead the competition with 37 points, four ahead of Santos Laguna.
America have both strategy and structure. They know what to do with the ball when they have it and how to get it when they don’t. Las Aguilas have the third-best offense in the league and the best defense.
The base of the national team has always consisted of players from the local league, so El Tri should not depend so much on those who come from Europe.
To make the team stronger, the Liga MX should be stronger. It is very important that the clubs give continuity to the youngsters. They have to help them boost their confidence so they can succeed in the first division.
Many of those kids have been cornerstones of the U-17, U-20 and U-23 squads, but when they make it to the first team, they lack all the things they showed when they were in the youth ranks.
This is a great chance to assess if the Liga MX is working in favor of youngsters and Mexican-born footballers.
The continuous naturalization of South American players and their eventual capping to the national team tells us that those managing the Liga MX and the clubs are not fully committed with their own footballers.
This crisis can well be the perfect excuse to make changes to the Liga MX format and to the executives of the clubs and the league, which will have a positive impact on future tournaments.
Missing the World Cup could also be a tough blow for the sponsors and media outlets.
Last October, Mexico played against Panama with a new jersey. MedioTiempo.com suggested that the players were supposed to wear it in Brazil 2014, but since the team was close to elimination, both the Mexican Football Federation and Adidas decided to change the release date.
ESPN informed that El Tri TV rights go as high as $100 million, while the nine main sponsors had paid between $4.9 million and $40 million to support El Tri from 2011 to 2014.
Overall, the economic loss could be as high as $600 million, according to Business Insider.
It is time for Mexico to step up and make it to the 2014 World Cup, but also for the managers, fans and media outlets to assess the real meaning of a scenario that had not been seen since 1981, when El Tri was eliminated from Spain 1982.
The future can be bright, but only if everyone takes good things from this crisis.