Mexico vs. New Zealand Playoff: Miguel Herrera's Risk Pays off Big for El Tri

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

Oct 30, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera gives a thumbs up following a win against Finland at Qualcomm Stadium. Mexico won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Miguel Herrera took a risk by leaving Mexico's European-based players off the roster for the World Cup qualifying playoff against New Zealand. It paid off for the El Tri manager, though, as his side cruised to a dominant 5-1 victory in the first leg.

The Mexican boss would have opened himself up to huge criticism if the side faltered at Estadio Azteca without the likes of Javier Hernandez and Hector Moreno, among others. Instead, Mexico is now virtually guaranteed a trip to Brazil next summer.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  Javier Hernandez of Mexico reacts during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Mexico and Italy at the Maracana Stadium on June 16, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Given the intense travel schedule players in Europe would have faced in a short period of time, Herrera opted to go with players he knew could come together quickly—and it showed. The chemistry issues that held El Tri back in late CONCACAF qualifiers were no longer a concern.

A roster filled with domestic players, including a large contingent from Herrera's Club America squad, provided a spark for a Mexican national team desperate for one.

Paul Aguilar broke the scoreless deadlock just after the half-hour mark, with Raul Jimenez adding another goal before the break to give Mexico a comfortable edge. Right after halftime, in-form striker Oribe Peralta ended New Zealand's comeback hopes by making it 3-0.

Peralta added another in the 80th minute, and Rafael Marquez struck a few moments later in Mexico's most complete performance of the year. New Zealand got on the board late courtesy of Christian James, but it was small consolation given the result.

It's unknown how Mexico would have performed if Hernandez, Moreno and company had played. Perhaps it still would have been a blowout, but that's hard to imagine given how poorly that version of the Mexican squad had been playing.

That said, calling up all of the biggest stars was the safe option for Herrera as he attempted to prove himself, but he took a chance and it paid off in a major way.

New Zealand will need to be far more aggressive in the second leg to make a comeback attempt, but that should play right into Mexico's hands. El Tri will be able to rely on the counterattack and cruise through the second leg without issue, punching their ticket to the World Cup in the process.

Assuming everything goes according to plan in the rematch next week, there will be plenty of players worthy of praise, including Aguilar, Jimenez, Peralta and Miguel Layun. However, Herrera should be front and center.

El Tri had been going through a rough patch and would have missed out on the World Cup if not for some help from the United States. Herrera has seemingly saved the day by taking a chance with a domestic squad and watching his plan play out to perfection.

Of course, if it didn't work, he would have been booed out of Estadio Azteca on Wednesday. It's a fine line between being a hero and being blamed for a disastrous result, which is exactly what missing the World Cup would have been for Mexico.

Herrera's gamble paid off in the first leg and now Mexico is back on track for Brazil with one match to go.