Mexican head coach Juan Carlos Osorio is still feeling the sting of his side’s 7-0 defeat in the Copa America quarterfinal to Chile. Even though Mexico rebounded after taking four of a possible six points away at El Salvador and at home to Honduras in World Cup qualifying, in a group where they already had the top stop sealed, the pressure remained on Osorio. Failing to score against Honduras at El Azteca left fans and pundits frustrated, since not everyone seems to buy into Osorio’s rotation policy.
Regardless of past results, Osorio has Mexico in the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in what’s known as the Hexagonal, or Hex for short. In what can be seen as a somewhat fresh start where every team enters qualifying on even terms, Osorio will kick off qualifying with a tricky trip to Columbus, Ohio, a location that has historically been terrible for Mexico. Osorio will have two friendly matches in October in what will be his final chances to try out players before the big test to open qualifying. Here are three players who should be given a chance during the two friendlies, and could be options come November for qualifying:
César Montes, Monterrey
Montes, the youngest of anyone on this list at just 19, has shown a maturity well beyond his age. The fact that at the age of 18 he was able to break into the first team of Monterrey, a team that isn’t regularly regarded in giving younger players consistent minutes in the way that other Liga MX teams like Pachuca, Chivas, and Atlas are, speaks volumes with regards to his talent.
Osorio has yet to find a right-center back to his liking to pair up with Hector Moreno on a consistent basis, having previously employed Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, and Hugo Ayala in that position. This partly is because of Osorio’s use of rotating players, but also because neither of them have had consistently great outings.
Montes has a great combination of height and speed that few Mexican defenders have. Also, he does a better job than most Mexican defenders at playing with the ball at his feet.
After having already participated in this summer’s Olympic Games and playing week in and week out for one of Mexico’s premier clubs, a call-up to the senior team could be the next step for him in the coming weeks.
Erick Gutiérrez, Pachuca
What might be the biggest shock so far during Osorio’s time as Mexico coach is how big of a role Rafael Marquez has played, even at the tender age of 37. While he is too slow to play in a center-back pairing, he still does well both in a three-man defence and as a holding midfielder. Mexico look their best in a 4-3-3 formation but no one has looked as good as good as Marquez as the third defender alongside Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno.
Just the way Montes could be the answer in the back-line, Erick Gutierrez could be the answer in the middle. Few, if any Mexicans, are as silky on the ball as the Pachuca man, who is most certainly not a traditional defensive midfielder. Part of what makes Marquez successful at this stage in his career is his passing ability; those same attributes set Gutierrez apart from other youngsters in Mexico at the age of 21. His ability to detect the passing lanes could make for the perfect partner to sit alongside Guardado and Herrera.
So while Gutierrez has been called up for Mexico in the past, he’s yet to make his senior debut. When he does debut, however, looks to be just a matter of time.
Alan Pulido, Chivas de Guadalajara
Possibly the most grim realization from the last two qualifying games for Mexico was the recognition of a lack up depth in attack. Prior to the matches, it was already known that Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta wouldn’t play because of a broken hand and broken nose respectively. This left Raul Jimenez leading the line of attack in the first match. While he did a more than acceptable job up top, the problem for Mexico really came to the forefront when he left the team after the match with an injury, forcing Osorio to start Angel Sepulveda and Angel Zaldivar up top; both were called up to the national team for their very first times.
Their other option off the bench? Martin Barragan, who was also called up for Mexico for the first time. This shows just how thin Mexico is up top when their first choice attackers are unable to play. Making things worse, the forwards of Mexico’s Olympic squad - Marco Bueno and Erik Torres - have yet to develop into the players Tri fans are hoping to see, with Torres failing to score at the club level for a year and a half now.
The player who can benefit the most from this mess is Alan Pulido. Since making the 2014 World Cup roster, Pulido’s club life has been in limbo. A long contract dispute with Tigres resulted in a disagreement as to whether he was free to leave or still under contract. After multiple rulings from FIFA and higher up judges, he finally settled with Olympiacos. The conclusion of a decent year with the Greek side saw him return to Mexico with Chivas.
Osorio stated that Pulido’s murky contract situation was a key factor in not calling the player up, even with his good form in Greece right before the summer. Now that everything is clear, his timing couldn’t be better for a chance to break back into the Mexican national team. He already opened his scoring account with a goal from the penalty spot for Chivas during a midweek Copa MX match and looks to be their number one option up top.
At 25, he’s been through the lumps of his youth and is entering the beginning stages of his prime. With Peralta aging and no Mexican youngster emerging as a consistent goal-scoring threat for Mexico for the time being, Pulido has shown flashes of being at the level of Hernandez and Jimenez. He could make a real push to become one of Mexico’s attacking options.