Mexico fringe players must make final case for A-team inclusion

Ringo Chiu
Thursday's friendly against Ireland is the last chance for players on the edge of Mexico's top group to convince coach Juan Carlos Osorio

After a frustrating day of travel Wednesday that involved flight delays and detours, the Mexico national team is in the New York area ahead of Thursday's friendly against Ireland.

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It might not be the preparation coach Juan Carlos Osorio wanted, jetting from Mexico City to Los Angeles to the northeast before the matches with meaning begin. But it was the hand he was dealt by federation and sponsor obligations. 

Not only is the match against Ireland the final opportunity for El Tri to face actual competition before June's rapid-fire progression of World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup — it's also the last chance for players on the fringe of the A team to impress the Colombian tactician and show they belong.

There's fine consolation for players who aren't able to break into the top group. Players may get more minutes to impress and represent their country at the Gold Cup in July, when Mexico will send an alternate side. But the chance to play in World Cup qualifiers in the Estadio Azteca and proving their merit in Russia at the Confederations Cup would be an enormous boost for their national team careers.

While the majority of players in this group are headed to the Confederations Cup, there are several who won't make the cut and will spend the summer in the United States rather than getting familiar with Russia.

Jesus Molina Mexico

Some of the players used the opening friendly against Croatia to boost their stock, with Elias Hernandez and Jesus Molina on the verge of the top team and both getting a start in Los Angeles.

Hernandez is at a disadvantage because of the depth the national team already has with creative players who can operate on the right side. Though his teammates weren't able to finish off anything he created, he did generate some attack in the first half of Saturday's match. If he gets another chance Thursday, he'll need an impressive showing again to prove he can displace more established players. With Carlos Vela, who replaced Hernandez in the friendly, and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona coming off their European seasons, it seems unlikely the 29-year-old can break through.

Molina, on the other hand, gets a boost with Jesus Duenas' mystery absence from the squad because of personal reasons — something that the national team has publicly accepted but reportedly is frustrated with privately. The Tigres midfielder has been an Osorio favorite, in part because of his ability to play in midfield or at right back. Molina may be a bit more settled in one position, but the Monterrey man brings a hard tackling presence to the middle that Osorio could desire.

That's not to say competition isn't stiff for the Monterrey man as well. Jonathan dos Santos stood out in the second half against Croatia and can do many of the same things Molina can, while Orbelin Pineda is now joining the group after winning the Liga MX title with Chivas.

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The most familiar name who looks to be in danger of missing out on Mexico's team when the cuts are made is America forward Oribe Peralta. After entering the 2014 World Cup in red-hot form the America striker has been hot-and-cold for El Tri. With Chicharito a lock for the A team and Raul Jimenez coming off a successful season with Benfica, it might be easier to justify taking the 33-year-old to the Gold Cup, as veteran leadership for players like Alan Pulido and Erick "Cubo" Torres, than to have him as an option off the bench in Russia.

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But as finishing problems dog the national team, a goal or two against Ireland might have the staff rethinking Peralta's position in the pecking order. Doe he do things differently enough from the other forwards on Mexico's roster to justify taking up a spot?

Thursday's friendly is hardly the most important match on Mexico's calendar, but for Hernandez, Molina and Peralta, it could be significant toward determining their plans for the summer.

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