DENVER — For the third time in the Juan Carlos Osorio era, Mexico is heading into the second group game of a tournament after a positive result. But we saw drastically different strategies for the coach's famous rotations between the first game of last summer's tournament and the one earlier this year.
Against New Zealand last month, Osorio put in a complete overhaul of the team that had just earned a draw against reigning European champion Portugal. The eight changes resulted in a nervous game for Mexico, with substitute Hector Herrera leading a furious comeback to top the All Whites, 2-1.
We'll see if the lessons from that match took when Mexico meets Jamaica on Thursday in a rematch of the 2015 Gold Cup final. For Osorio, the number of rotations might not be as significant as the quality of the changes when taking a fast, strong Jamaica into account.
"We’re paying a lot of attention to what they offer as principal characteristics," Osorio said in Wednesday's pre-match news conference. "We've seen two games, the one against Curacao, which we attended, and we also saw the friendly game against Peru on video. It's a team that's going to demand we get the details right, that's going to contend with its quick football.
"For that reason, we've thought about, we've trained and we've evaluated a lot of our players in their natural positions and in those we see players who can play more than one position, [which] could be in the case of Edson (Alvarez), the case of Jesus (Molina), the case of Orbelin (Pineda), the case of Rodolfo (Pizarro).
"We hope to get the selection of the group right."
The last time Mexico played Jamaica was also the second group stage game of a summer tournament in the United States. El Tri's top side defeated the Reggae Boyz 2-0 in the Copa America Centenario.
Osorio made four changes from the triumph in the Copa America's opening game and watched Mexico control a Jamaica team with Premier League players like Wes Morgan, Michael Hector and Adrian Mariappa in the defense. He swapped out the goalkeeper to bring in Guillermo Ochoa, who he felt would deal better with the aerial threat posed by the Caribbean team. He also inserted Jesus Duenas into the midfield and played Raul Jimenez as the third forward instead of Javier Aquino. Goals from Chicharito and Oribe Peralta gave Mexico the win.
These are different teams, though. Of the players mentioned above, only Duenas is in Denver ahead of the match tomorrow. Still, we certainly will see Osorio — and assistant coach Luis Pompilio Paez, who is taking care of gameday operations while Osorio serves his FIFA suspension — make rotations. Despite the fact that the Colombian tactician has made changes every game, reporters continue to ask if he will do so in the upcoming game.
"Si senor," he said flatly when asked if the rotations would continue, citing an article he said came out recently in the English press looking at how Premier League teams that don't rest their players in busy periods are more likely to lose them to injury. While Mexico suffered injury blows in last month's Confederations Cup, Osorio said the rotations are often designed to minimize the chance of players getting hurt.
"I think, although we've always put importance on it, although we've always taken it in mind, although it's always been one of the factors we think about with our rotations, we suffered with Diego Reyes and Hector Moreno getting injured in the Confederations Cup," he added. "I think it's a factor where we have to keep getting better."
Of course, in addition to keeping players fresh, the matchups are an influence on the rotations. Jamaica doesn't use the same strategy of going over the opponent with a fine-toothed comb, but coach Theodore Whitmore said he's also set to make changes from his team's 2-0 opening win against Curacao.
"We are not focusing on what Mexico is going to do for tomorrow's game. We are in a tournament with back-to-back games, there is not a lot of rest," he said Wednesday. "We'll probably take the same approach going into the game as well."
Mexico will hope the game resembles the teams' previous meetings much more than the scare-inducing second group game against New Zealand. A win against the Reggae Boyz would put El Tri well on the path to the final where they believe they belong. Whether it takes many or few changes from the lineup that beat El Salvador is up for debate.