Miguel Herrera, Mexico under pressure to perform in Gold Cup opener

It's now or never for Miguel "Piojo" Herrera and the Mexican national team.

After a couple of months filled with controversial statements by the manager, an awful performance at the Copa America, and injuries to key players, El Tri must still find a way to win the 2015 Gold Cup title.

Considering the embarrassing early exit in the last Gold Cup, Mexico needs to secure a title this month in order to qualify for the playoff match against the United States for the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Herrera has saved his best players for this competition, and even without the injured Hector Moreno and Javier Hernandez, Mexico arguably still has the most talented roster in North America. The group stage will surely be an easy test, but there are still subtle worries about the Mexican side who has disappointed fans with recent struggles.

El Tri's first hurdle will be against Cuba on Thursday night in Chicago.

Here are five things to watch from Mexico in the squad's Gold Cup opener.

1. Mexico setting the pace

El Tri has gone seven games without a win. It's easy to point out that only two of these matches involved the Gold Cup roster, but it still doesn't help boost the confidence of the national team.

With an ugly 2015 so far for the national squad and a low approval rating for Herrera, Mexico must garner a convincing win in the opener and gain back the trust and support of many El Tri fans. There are undoubtedly high expectations for Mexico, and anything less than a win will be seen as a massive failure for the team.

There should be no reason why the squad can't beat Cuba on Thursday. If not, the already high amount of criticism for Herrera and El Tri will skyrocket after the match.

2. Jonathan dos Santos taking control of the midfield

In the past two friendlies, Jonathan dos Santos was left making cameo appearances for the Mexican national team. In each game, the 25-year-old was brought in during the last 10-15 minutes -- little time to truly make an impact on the field.

Now, the midfielder will have a significant opportunity to showcase his well-known talents against Cuba. The ex-Barcelona player has terrific vision with the ball and is excellent with his short passing going forward. With plenty of confidence in defensive midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez, Dos Santos should have plenty of space to roam and run with the ball.

With a likely heavily-defensive strategy from Cuba on Thursday, Dos Santos will be a key player to break down the Caribbean back line.

3. Hector Herrera on the right wing

After two fantastic assists in the friendly against Costa Rica last month, 33-year-old Carlos Esquivel received a start in the following friendly and appeared on his way to a surprise role in Mexico's starting XI.

A 4-4-2 formation during Monday's training included Esquivel, but left out star player Hector Herrera. Despite initial worries about the omission of Herrera, the 25-year-old has been given the nod as one of Mexico's XI for Thursday's match.

With plenty of pace and great control of the ball, Herrera could easily dominate the right flank for Mexico. Although the midfielder is typically utilized in a more central role, there are no doubts the Porto player should have no trouble thriving as a right midfielder.

Unfortunately for Herrera, a player like Esquivel has recently proven to be a valuable asset and could easily transition in at any point should Herrera begin to show a small drop in his form.

4. Vela-Peralta partnership

Initially, a Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela partnership was mouth-watering for Mexico fans. Both players are lethal attackers with plenty of creativity to show-off. That being said, it isn't too surprising that Herrera has decided to leave Dos Santos on the bench and instead go for an Oribe Peralta-Vela partnership.

Vela and Dos Santos are similar players and could literally run into one another on the pitch. Both players love to roam around the attacking area and are not at their best when they are confined to one area. Not having one true striker could present a problem for Mexico against the many Gold Cup squads who will heavily rely on defensive strategies.

Don't think Peralta is a massive downgrade, either. The Club America striker still maintains a strong presence with his strength up top, and could create some assists or goals with a more active Vela working alongside him.

As for Dos Santos, he may not be given a starting role, but expect the 26-year-old to be one of the first substitutions in the match if Mexico isn't scoring.

5. Mexico's wingbacks

While the 4-4-2 has turned out to be a decent formation for Mexico, it does hinder two wingbacks: Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layun.

In the usual 5-3-2 formation, Aguilar and Layun were key players for the squad with their dangerously high runs and crosses into the box. With the four-man back line, both players have looked uncomfortable in their new roles and have had little impact going forward.

Perhaps there shouldn't be too much blame on the players after the formation change, but neither one has met expectations during the past couple of friendlies.

One option to consider is for Layun to switch over to Aguilar's position and give Jorge Torres Nilo a chance to shine as Mexico's left defender. Torres Nilo is much more accustomed to the formation and could be a great option off the bench if Layun or Aguilar begin to disappoint.