Juan Carlos Osorio hasn't been shy about saying it: His list is nearly ready.
The Mexico manager knows who is going to the World Cup with just a few exceptions. Since Mexico clinched qualification in the fall, a group of about 30 players have been considered, with the national team's technical staff and trainers sending them materials to help train. Only a few spots are left, and with March's friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia less than a week away there are few chances to blow Osorio away and convince him he has to take you to Russia.
Plenty has changed since Mexico's last match, a January friendly win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. We've seen Hector Moreno and Miguel Layun settle in well at new clubs. We've seen injury derail the chance for players like Giovani dos Santos, Jonathan dos Santos and Jurgen Damm to impress this month.
So who will be on the final list? Every month until the tournament Goal will take a look at the 23 players most likely to represent El Tri at the World Cup, updating the projection as players' form oscillates or as injuries take players out of contention. Here is our projection ahead of the March friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia:
Guillermo Ochoa, Jesus Corona, Alfredo Talavera
Ever since last summer, this trio looked like it would be the group in Russia. That hasn't changed. They're the players on the Alfredo Talavera is back from his knee injury, and despite a few bobbles with Toluca has Osorio's trust.
Ochoa has been the undoubted No. 1 dating back to the September games when he started both contests. The Standard Liege shot-stopper held his own against a potent Belgium attack in November and continues to be dependable when called upon for El Tri. Jesus Corona put in a good performance in November as well, especially with his right-leg save in the second half to keep the clean sheet intact against Poland. Mexico's top-two goalkeepers should be of little worry.
What if Talavera backslides or there's an injury? Osorio looks to be all in on Chivas goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota. In most previous friendly matches, he's used one of his six substitutions on the goalkeeper, but Cota went the distance against Bosnia & Herzegovina in January's win.
Hector Moreno, Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, Edson Alvarez, Miguel Layun, Carlos Salcedo, Jesus Gallardo, Hugo Ayala
After winter moves for Hector Moreno and Miguel Layun, the left half of Mexico's best back four has been playing regular minutes in La Liga rather than rotting on the bench for Roma and Porto, respectively.
Still, this area continues to be the place of biggest concern for Mexico, and our projection includes no players who are primarily right backs. But if Osorio is concerned about that, he hasn't shown it. Layun, Salcedo, Alvarez and Reyes all can play the position — and have for the Mexico national team in the past few months. Gallardo's positive performances against Bosnia at left back and against Poland, first at left wing back then at left back, means Layun could be on the right if needed. Salcedo is playing as a right center back with Frankfurt but once again moved out wide against Belgium before coming inside against Poland.
Alvarez had a standout Gold Cup playing mostly right back that led to minutes in the final batch of World Cup qualifiers. After Alvarez spent the summer training with the team in Russia, though not part of the Confederations Cup squad, he seems to have a strong chance to be included to help Mexico's depth at both right back and center back. Recent injuries along the America back line have seen him playing Liga MX minutes, but if he drops back to the bench his place may be at risk.
Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez's strong showing at right back against Bosnia probably would've earned him a recall to face tougher competition in March had he not suffered an injury. Now, his World Cup dream is all but over.
Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Jonathan dos Santos, Javier Aquino, Marco Fabian, Jonathan Gonzalez
Gonzalez hasn't seen much time with Mexico. He didn't start in the friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina. Despite all that, he's back on the March roster.
Osorio and sporting director Dennis te Kloese have been clear that they've made no assurances to Gonzalez about going to Russia. They also say he's getting the same chance as everyone else. That should mean time in the friendly matches. Osorio keeps saying Gonzalez has a bright present and future. In the present, he looked comfortable enough in the more advanced role to draw attention and also has the ability to slot in more centrally. Maybe March changes things negatively for Gonzalez, and the injury that has kept him out of the last few matches with Rayados hasn't helped. For now, he's in.
Guardado is in good form with Real Betis after coming off an injury and also can serve as the team's captain and leader. Of course, if Rafa Marquez's situation is resolved, El Kaiser could fill those roles. It seems more and more likely that won't happen. Despite Marquez's name slowly continuing to be cleared, Osorio said recently that it would come down to a sporting decision. Marquez is a legend, but do his Atlas showings (and injuries at the start of the campaign) really reflect a player who needs to be at the World Cup?
This is an experienced group, though. Like in El Tri's last trip to Russia, there's not a player here who specializes in sitting back and destroying attacks. Dos Santos and Herrera took that job on to some extent at the Confederations Cup, and they'll have to do so again with few top-quality options available for Mexico as a defensive midfielder. Reyes and Guardado paired together to good effect against Belgium, so that's another option. Gonzalez does that with Monterrey, but with his small stature Osorio prefers him to be playing further up the field.
Fabian is a big question mark here. When Fabian has been healthy, Osorio and the coaching staff have wanted the Eintracht Frankfurt man in the group. He returned for Frankfurt but has played just twice in league action and made a cup cameo. He needs to show he's ready in this group of games to make sure his spot is secure.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Raul Jimenez, Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Giovani dos Santos
Chicharito, Lozano and Tecatito are locks based on their form for club and country since Osorio arrived. Jimenez and Vela are likely in that group as well, even as their playing time dipped toward the end of 2017. Jimenez gets his minutes and scores the odd goal with Benfica, while Vela has looked strong enough at the beginning of his Los Angeles FC career.
Giovani dos Santos didn't look great against Bosnia & Herzegovina, and we thought it was fair to discuss his place on the roster after the contest. Osorio, however, saw it differently and seemed delighted with how Gio kept his fitness up during the offseason. Watch this space, but for now it looks like Gio is in even though he's missing the March games because of the injury he picked up in the Galaxy's loss to NYCFC.
So who is out? For now, it's Oribe Peralta. Osorio wanting Peralta to be in his squad both the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup before America protested speaks to how highly he values Peralta's contributions. Peralta, however, really only does one thing well. With Chicharito and Raul Jimenez filling the same role and doing it better, "El Cepillo" has work to do to return to the World Cup.
Outside looking in
Trending up: Omar Govea (Royal Excel Mouscron midfielder), Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas center back), Jesus Molina (Monterrey midfielder), Rodolfo Pizarro (Chivas midfielder), Oribe Peralta (Club America forward)
Trending down: Jurgen Damm (Tigres winger), Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez (Tigres defender), Rodolfo Cota (Chivas goalkeeper), Cesar Montes (Monterrey center back)
Better luck in 2022: Erick Gutierrez (Pachuca midfielder), Alan Pulido (Chivas forward), Henry Martin (Club America forward), Victor Guzman (Pachuca midfielder), Adrian Aldrete (Cruz Azul left back), Luis Reyes (Atlas left back), Moises Munoz (Puebla goalkeeper), Uriel Antuna (Groningen midfielder)