Luis Bueno
Friday January 29th, 2010

While there's nothing good about the Salvador Cabañas shooting earlier this week, there have been some uplifting side effects in the wake of the horrible incident.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, Cabañas was shot in the head in the bathroom of a Mexico City bar. While such a wound would likely be fatal, Cabañas has shown the spirit and tenacity that helped him blossom into one of the most prolific scorers in the Mexican league as well as a standout player for the Paraguayan national team.

The bullet is still lodged in Cabañas' brain after surgery failed to remove it. An edema (swelling) threatened to deteriorate his condition (already critical). But Cabañas lives, and is continuing to show brain activity. If he survives but never plays soccer again, he will still be a great loss for the Mexican league and the Paraguayan national team.

Perhaps it's his fight that attracts so many to him. Cabañas is a bit of a lightning rod, in that he demands attention. Fans know better than to turn away from the game when he has the ball. Teammates know that getting it to his feet could likely result in a goal. Opponents know this, too, and mark him as tightly as possible. Now that he's in a battle for his life, he's drawing attention as well. Fans and teams across Mexico have laid down their own club loyalties to support Cabañas.

Club América fans have turned out in droves to show their love, which isn't surprising given the passion and fervor they feel for their club. But Estudiantes showed support as well, donning T-shirts that blared a get-well message to "Chava" before their Copa Libertadores play-in match against Juan Aurich in Peru this week. Even Chivas, América's bitter rivals, sent Cabañas its own get-well message. In the upcoming weekend and future league games, such messages will likely come from across the league.

América is perhaps the club everyone in Mexico loves to hate. Its marketing campaign for the Clausura 2005 title-winning season, Ódiame Más ("Hate Me More") -- spoke to that. But hate only goes so far when one of its best is down and everyone is trying to help pick him back up.

This year, the Mexican national team has three games on its schedule that matter: South Africa on June 11, France on June 17 and Uruguay on June 22. El Tri will play upwards of 12 other games before helping to usher in the 2010 World Cup. Ultimately, those results will be meaningless, but that's not to say those other matches are of no significance.

While Mexico's pre-World Cup calendar isn't quite fully complete, the Mexican Football Federation filled many of the blanks on Thursday by naming five of the six opponents for Mexico's U.S.-based friendlies. Also, FMF executive Nestor de la Torre all but filled out El Tri's European friendly slate with three matches to be played in May and possibly June.

Save for a couple of dates here and there, Mexico's calendar has been filled out rather nicely. While de la Torre said Thursday that the U.S.-based friendlies are part of a two-step process, the entire friendly calendar can be divided into three parts: observation, gathering and focusing.

Observation games: Bolivia (Feb. 24 in San Francisco), New Zealand (March 3 in Pasadena, Calif.) and Iceland (March 17 in Charlotte, N.C.). These games will give coach Javier Aguirre the chance to test out players -- and tactics as well, if he so chooses -- against some lightweights. Playing against lesser opponents is normally not a great thing, but in this case what matters most is how players respond to an international setting. Bolivia, New Zealand and Iceland will fit the bill just fine. Mexico should probably win these games, but the wins and losses don't matter.

Gathering games: Ecuador (May 7 in New York), Senegal (May 10 in Chicago) and an opponent to be determined (May 13 in Houston). You can also add Mexico's May 16 match against Chile at Estadio Azteca here, a game the Chilean federation had previously announced. These games will be Mexico's first set after it announces its roster for South Africa, and the beginning of its final World Cup preparations.

Focusing games: England (in May), Netherlands (May 26 in Austria) and Italy (in either late May or early June in Brussels). De la Torre said the FMF was working out the details for the England and Italy matches, as the Dutch game had already been confirmed. This is as close to the World Cup as Mexico will get before setting foot on African soil. There's little to hold back here, not because the results matter but because this is a chance to iron out the kinks before the scores count.

Mexico will play another game at home in March, rumored to be at the new Territorio Santos Modelo stadium in Torreón, which will provide Aguirre another opportunity to see potential Cup-bound players in action. The roster will come together by April. In all likelihood, Aguirre already has more than a dozen slots filled, but rounding out the rest of the squad won't be an insignificant chore as every spot is a coveted and important one.

After that, Mexico's matches will likely be filled with more energy and suspense, if only because June 11 will be much closer by then.

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