This week, Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio will announce his squad to face Iceland and Croatia, his final call-up before bringing players into camp once the European season ends and naming his World Cup roster.
It will be the best indication we've had since the 2017 Confederations Cup of where Osorio sees the group. Who does he want to have in Russia? Is he prizing versatility over players who are really good at one thing but not as good at others? Will have give chances to some of the younger players on the fringe? Or with most of his decisions already made, is it time to get down to business and start working together toward the goals of getting out of the group, getting to the fifth game and ultimately lifting the World Cup? We'll receive big clues this week.
In all likelihood, Osorio will call more than 23 players, but we're going to keep our projection to 23 and allow that a couple more could travel, allowing more opportunities for the coaching staff to see different players and, yes, for rotation.
Guillermo Ochoa, Jesus Corona, Alfredo Talavera
This trio seems the most likely to go to Russia, and it would stand to reason they all would be invited into this camp. It will be fascinating to see how Osorio will approach the goalkeeping situation. Alfredo Talavera is back from the knee injury that sidelined him for several months but hasn't looked all that great for Toluca.
Does Osorio toss him out against Iceland to see how he responds against a team likely to play a more direct style of soccer, the kind of game in which he's used Talavera before? Does he give Ochoa a full game and give the other two guys a half each in the other? Is it all Memo all the time? Rotating the goalkeeper was one of Osorio's ideas which he has discarded with experience, but it's reasonable to expect to see all three faces during this window.
Hector Moreno, Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, Carlos Salcedo, Miguel Layun, Jesus Gallardo
Here they are. Your Mexico defenders at the 2018 World Cup.
Sure, plenty could change, but this looks like it will be the group Osorio takes. Moreno's fitness was in question after a training-ground injury with new club Real Sociedad forced him to miss a few contests but his goal against Alaves last week and 90 minutes against Espanyol last weekend have assuaged fears he'd miss out. Diego Reyes has become a regular for Porto, more or less. Miguel Layun's club situation is better, with the defender now at Sevilla.
Luis Rodriguez was impressive against Bosnia and Herzegovina last month but currently is out with an injury. Edson Alvarez has seen a bit more time with America lately, but it's fair to wonder if falling out of Miguel Herrera's first team will end the World Cup dream for the 20-year-old (he'll have more chances to go to a World Cup). We didn't include him, but don't be surprised to see Hugo Ayala in the mix as well. The Tigres center back has been solid if not spectacular when he's suited up for El Tri.
Club form is sort of secondary, though. These are Mexico's best defenders. Period.
Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Jonathan dos Santos, Javier Aquino, Marco Fabian, Omar Govea, Jonathan Gonzalez
Andres Guardado is back in Real Betis training but didn't appear in Monday's win over Alaves. It's not like he won't be in the World Cup squad, so it's possible he continues recuperating in Spain. His status is up in the air, but if he's healthy, he'll be with the group.
Hector Herrera and Jonathan dos Santos seem assured. Aquino is a player who rarely gets much attention, but the way he combines with the fullbacks and his crossing put him in a category along with Mexico's best players. He's only 28, and absolutely could be playing abroad again should he desire.
Marco Fabian is fit, and while he hasn't been getting as much playing time as he'd like to with Eintracht Frankfurt it's more than reasonable for the coaching staff to call Fabian up. Before being sidelined by a back issue for the majority of the season, Fabian had a solid Confederations Cup (remember this?). It will be worth having him back around the group and allowing the Mexico trainers to see where he's at and make sure he's good to go ahead of the summer.
That brings us to the two surprise inclusions. Mexico assistant coach Luis Pompilio Paez told reporters last weekend that the coaching staff has spoken with Govea about being part of the friendly matches. He impressed in his brief appearance over the summer and would've been part of the January camp had his team released him. Clearly, there's enough there to consider taking him to Russia. This is a good chance to see just what he can offer against opponents who will be taking part in the World Cup.
Jonathan Gonzalez's injury hasn't come at a great time. He missed Monterrey's loss to Santos Laguna on Sunday. Everything the Mexico staff has said indicates they want to see him in action again, so I've included him as my 23rd pick. If he can't play, it's not necessarily the end of his bid to make the 2018 tournament, but a good showing this month certainly would boost his chances.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Hirving Lozano, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Raul Jimenez, Giovani dos Santos, Oribe Peralta, Carlos Vela
How excited does Chicharito have to be to join up with the Mexico national team? Seriously, think about it. Things already weren't going all that great for him at West Ham personally. Then, he starts to score a bit and see more minutes but gets sent back to the bench. The Hammers can't put it together and the fans are running on the field, protesting the club. Then you go to the United States where thousands of fans are screaming your name and go into a locker room that generally seems to like hanging out with each other. It just seems like a huge shift.
Anyway, he'll be in this group. So will Hirving Lozano and Raul Jimenez. Oribe Peralta also should be included in this call-up, even though he stayed home in January. It's a full window and Peralta's spot in Russia isn't exactly set in stone. Giovani dos Santos' place didn't seem set in stone, but Osorio loved how he approached the offseason. A hamstring injury forced him off at halftime of the LA Galaxy's loss Sunday to NYCFC, but it looked to have happened pretty early in the half and he was okay to continue. If he's fit, he's in. Carlos Vela, on the other hand, was excellent in his MLS match Saturday, netting his first goal for LAFC, and should be included.
(Editor's note: Reports March 13 said Gio will be kept out of the squad because of the injury with a Liga MX-based player set to receive the call in his place.)
Jesus Corona didn't make the Panini sticker album, according to leaks, but maybe that was just because of his absence from the Confederations Cup because of personal issues. After starting with Porto in the UEFA Champions League, he should be good to go even if his form hasn't been as impressive as it was at this time last season.